Jammu: The massive landslide on Jammu-Srinagar national highway near Samroli on late Sunday night that badly damaged over 100-meter road stretch have exposed ‘fault-lines’ in the management plan of National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) which is executing prestigious four-laning project to make it an all-weather road to Kashmir.
The major cause of concern is the ‘unscientific blasting’ being carried out by the contractors and agencies “to make money quickly” which, according to geologists, have destabilized all major slopes along the highway.
“This highway has become a goldmine for contractors and other agencies engaged to carry out widening work and maintain it as frequent closures triggered by landslides and falling stones continue to make it a vulnerable stretch for road users. We have flagged our concerns a number of times and even approached former chief ministers to control such activities but no heed was paid to our pleas,” G M Bhat, noted geologist of J&K said.
What is more worrying is that the executing agencies have shown “scant regard to mining and excavation norms while carrying out blasting in a most unscientific manner and that too in the high seismic zone”.
“They (contractors) are doing it with impunity because there is no check on their activities. The ground reality is far from execution plans. They are easily managing necessary documents required to carry out blasting by greasing palms of officials,” he said, adding “The excavation plans are faulty and there is no proper mechanism of disposal of debris and muck as well”.
“They (contractors) will leave J&K after performing their jobs but a trail of loose and unstable slopes will remain there. It will have a long-lasting impact on the road users using this highway. I would say that the unplanned execution of widening work due to subletting of construction work, one after another, has created a peculiar and alarming situation along the highway,” the geologist added.
Another noted geologist of J&K, who declined to be named, questioned the management plan being executed by NHAI to carry out widening work. “The illegal blasting and faulty excavation by contractors have made long slopes along highway more unstable. It indicates that either the management plan of NHAI is faulty or contractors engaged by it are not implementing it in a holistic manner. In 2018, reports of cracks and land sliding were reported from a village in Ramban. It means something is wrong somewhere. The NHAI needs to take extra care while executing a prestigious project,” the geologist said.
Pertinently, the four-laning of 286-km-long Jammu-Srinagar highway was started in 2011 and the project was stipulated to complete in five years but the slow tendering on difficult sections–widening of Ramban-Udhampur road (43 km) and Banihal-Ramban road (36-km) has seen jumping of several deadlines. The widening work is now expected to be completed by December 2024.
A senior official of NHAI sought to downplay the asssertions of geologists, saying “all aspects with regard to geological survey were covered in detailed project report (DPR) of highway widening work. Our executing agencies are doing their job professionally”.