Let down by administrative apathy, people cut a road on their own through the hilly terrain to link them to Jammu-Srinagar NH, but it got washed away in rains
Udhampur, Jammu and Kashmir: When the administration let them down citing the topography, the residents of Naki village in Jammu's Udhampur district did what they thought was the best bet. They constructed a four-km road to Khairi on the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway (NH) on their own, but lack of funds and subsequent rains poured water on their efforts.
Mostly cattle-rearers and labourers, the villagers pooled together Rs 14 lakh and took up the herculean task of carving the road through the hilly terrain. The more affluent Gujjar families contributed in cash to hire JCBs and other equipment, while the poor donated their labour. They also got help from engineers involved in the NH work.
“Though we completed the Naki-Khairi road, it was uneven and bumpy as we could not clear some of the big boulders due to paucity of funds to hire equipment. And when it rained, the kutcha (unmetalled) road just got washed away,” said retired government employee Sardar Khan (62).
Reham Ali still eagerly awaits the day when Naki would be connected to NH by a pucca (metalled) road. “I can definitely save around Rs 6,000 every month then. Right now, I have to pay labourers every alternate day to get fodder on horseback. Each trip costs anywhere between Rs 400 and Rs 600,” Ali, who has 30 milch animals, told 101Reporters.
Around 700 Gujjars reside in Naki and those into cattle-rearing arrange fodder from the plains of Jammu and neighbouring Punjab. According to Ali, they have to offer bribes at police checkpoints to transport hay and other items over and beyond the permitted quantities. Toll tax and labour costs are added burdens.
“If the government had constructed even a levelled kutcha road for us, Naki would have been connected with the district headquarters and the rest of the country,” Ali lamented.
Knocking on all doors
The villagers had raised the issue of road construction with the panchayat officials and during the much-hyped Back to Village Programme of the Jammu and Kashmir government.
On August 5, 2020, they discussed the problem with Sofia Bano, the then Narsoo Block Development Officer (BDO). Subsequently, the latter sanctioned Rs 10 lakh for an unmetalled road to Naki.
“However, after assessing the ground situation, a junior engineer associated with the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) concluded in his report that a road to Naki was not feasible due to its tough topography,” informed Khan, who cannot see any logic in the report.
“If roads can be constructed in the remotest and hilliest Dachhan block of Kishtwar district, a four-km stretch is very well possible in Naki,” he remarked.
Claiming that he was not aware of the report, Vishal Atri, the present BDO, told 101Reporters that his office has no power to sanction any road project that exceeded a km in length. “The villagers could have got the amount sanctioned from the public works department,” he added.
On September 28, 2020, the villagers had raised the matter with Indu Kanwal Chib, the then Deputy Commissioner (DC) for Udhampur. Though the DC directed the assistant director (planning) to look into the matter urgently, nothing changed on the ground.
Asked about the road, incumbent DC Krittika Jyotsna told 101Reporters that she was not aware of the status of the road.
When villagers finally decided to stage a sit-in protest on November 8 last year, both Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leaders promised help but in vain.
“While AAP leader Harsh Dev Singh asked us to join him for a dharna outside the Divisional Commissioner’s Jammu office, BJP’s Balwant Singh Mankotia assured us that he will raise the issue with the Prime Minister’s Office and area MP Dr Jitendra Singh,” added Ali.
101Reporters contacted Udhampur’s Chief Planning Officer (CPO) Muddassir Yaqoob, who washed his hands of the fiasco. “A three-tier system of administration is functional in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. In such a scenario, why blame the DC office alone?”
Listing out the options that the villagers could have utilised to get the road constructed, Yaqoob blamed the panchayat for not prioritising the matter. “The villagers should have got the project sanctioned either through the panchayat, block development council, district development council, or under the 14th Finance Commission or MGNREGA plans. Even Back to Village Programme was a good option,” he said.
“Representations that reach the DC office are addressed through a set procedure. In this particular case, we have done the initial planning, but the issue of shooting stones and other environmental challenges failed the efforts,” he added.
Bali Nallah panchayat sarpanch Rukhsana Kouser said the panchayat got the NABARD to fund a two-km road from NH to Shardha Mata last month, but the final approval is awaited. "We want to extend this road to Naki. But it would take some time as the file related to this road is still at the Secretariat,” she said.
She also suggested that another road from NH to Malwari could help Khairi and Naki residents, but it needed clearing of forests.
Arteev Sharma, a journalist based in Jammu, opined that the project should be included in the PMGSY phase-4, as the panchayat is not in a position to take it up due to fund crunch.
“To get a four-km road sanctioned under the scheme, Naki villagers first need to get a resolution passed in the panchayat and then forward it to the chief engineer of either the PMGSY or PWD (roads and bridges),” he said.
Cover image: Road construction in process by Naki residents (Photo sourced by Bivek Mathur)
Edited by Tanya Shrivastava
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