In a symbolic protest, the residents of this Budgam hamlet planted paddy on the muddy road leading up to their village. They were venting their frustrations against government inaction in getting the road macadamized.
Budgam: Around four decades ago, Ali Mohammad (75), from Check Mohalla in Chadoora Tehsil of Kashmir’s Budgam district, got together with a few people from his locality to build a short link road to their village. Some people volunteered their labour while others, expertise and finances, to complete the 1.5 km-long stretch between Chadoora and Check Mohalla Qazipora.
“Within a month or so, the dirt road to Check Mohalla was completed and this is how our remote hamlet, which remained shut for the most part of the winters due to snowfall, was connected to the rest of the world,” said the septuagenarian.
In 2004, the Jammu and Kashmir government laid gravel on the road. But it gradually got washed away due to rainfall and the overflow of water from the paddy fields above.
For the next 17 years, the Check Mohalla residents claimed to have run from pillar to post to get their road macadamized but all in vain. As the road allegedly didn’t get any repair since 2004, the continuous waterlogging due to rainfall and snowfall resulted in potholes along the whole stretch of the road, they said.
Ali Mohammad (left) is among those who constructed the dirt mud four decades ago but it's difficult to navigate during winters and monsoons (Picture sourced by Bivek Mathur)
Khajur Mohammad Bhat, the Sarpanch of Qazipora Panchayat, said the dirt road to Check Mohalla was constructed in the 80s.“Just above this stretch of road, there are paddy fields. Every time it rains, the water overflowing from these fields cause damage to the road beneath. I wanted to prioritise the construction of drainage and the laying of a pipeline on either side of the road well before macadamization. And this is what I’ve already taken up with the Road & Building department.”
“I had been trying to get this road blacktopped for the past one and half years, but due to COVID-19 restrictions, we couldn’t move out to discuss the problems with the administration,” he said.
Younis Ali (27) is a resident of Check Mohalla who has been petitioning for a new road for long. According to him, navigating the Chadoora-Check Mohalla Qazipora road is a nightmare for school-going children, elderly citizens, drivers and pedestrians. They go as far as to say that it poses a threat to the lives of commuters.
Check Mohalla has a population of around 300 people but no secondary or higher secondary school. Around 80 students attend the lone middle school — the Government Middle School Check Mohalla. “When it rains, we avoid sending our teenagers to school,” Ali said. Ali himself parks his vehicle at Chadoora, the village from where the link road starts.
Mohammad Shafi (38), a resident of Qazipora, described a strange ritual among the villagers to highlight the government apathy towards developing the kutcha road. According to him, when marriages or other functions are held in their village, people pool in money to buy the gravel and sand to fill up the potholes. Two or three days before the arrival of Baraat or the wedding party, the volunteers come together to get this stretch of the road ready, Shafi said.
“Otherwise we’ve seen brides and grooms slipping on this road,” he said.
Upset over the administrative inertia in getting their road blacktopped, villagers gathered on June 13 at one swampy portion of the road stretch and planted paddy saplings as a “mark of protest”.
Younis Ali is among those planting paddy saplings on the Chadoora-Check Mohalla Qazipora road in Budgam district on June 13 (Picture sourced by Bivek Mathur)
Ali, the brainchild behind this creative protest, claimed he got the idea from the video-sharing app, TikTok. “While on TikTok one day, I came across a video of small children dancing on a muddy road. This prompted me to conceive the out-of-the-box idea of a ‘paddy protest’ on our village road to press the government into getting the stretch macadamized,” said the young Panch.
Abdul Qayoom (29), another Check Mohalla resident, said their unique protest caught the attention of the Road and Building (R&B) officials and the local administrators. Soon after the protest, their area was visited by Mohammad Ilyas Suharwardi, the R&B executive engineer; SDM Chadoora, PN Hameed, and other officials.
“Following the officers’ field visit, we have been assured that our road would be macadamized soon,” stated Qayoom. Ali is sure their road would now be taken up on priority for blacktopping. But other villagers like Mohammad Shafi believe “nothing will happen”
Suharwardi said, “We’re preparing the project estimates for the construction of some culverts and drainage around the road and the laying of cemented pipes on either side of the stretch. The estimated cost of this project would be around Rs 1 crore. Once this project is approved and executed, we will gradually take up blacktopping on the road stretch.”
PN Hameed, however, claimed that he had never been approached by any deputation from the village regarding the blacktopping of their road since he has assumed office. According to him, almost all the roads he is overseeing, except the one connecting Chack Mohalla, have been blacktopped. “We could have laid the bitumen on this stretch as well. But there are some issues regarding the construction of drainage and culverts on this patch. Very soon it will be done. In a phased manner, we will lay metal on this kutcha road and accordingly it will be macadamized,” the bureaucrat said.
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