• Javaid Malik
  • Publish Date: Oct 15 2018 3:11AM
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  • Updated Date: Oct 15 2018 3:11AM

As many as 22 passengers getting killed in a road accident on the Srinagar-Jammu highway in Ramban district last week shocked the entire state. The ill fated mini-bus on way from Banihal to Ramban skidded off the road near Kelamorh and fell into a 200 feet deep gorge. Most of the passengers died on the spot while a few succumbed to their injuries later.

This accident has once again brought to fore that roads in Chenab Valley and Pir Panchal regions have turned into virtual death traps. 

According to the officials more than 350 road accidents have taken place in twin districts of Doda and Kishtwar since January this year. At least 24 persons were killed and 287 injured in 158 road accidents in Doda district since January this year, while 52 persons lost their lives and 185 were wounded in 207 accidents in Kishtwar district during this period.

Every time accidents take place on the Srinagar-Jammu highway or in Chenab Valley, politicians issue statements to express grief and sorrow over such incidents and the matter is forgotten till another unfortunate incident takes place. “Politicians who have ruled the state during the past 70 years have failed to provide an alternative highway to the people of Kashmir. They have just depended on Srinagar- Jammu highway to connect Kashmir with rest of the world,” said an analyst.

He said that it’s after 70 years that attempts are being made to turn Mughal Road into a full-fledged highway. “We don’t know how many more years it would still take to convert Mughal Road into the highway,” the analyst added.    

Residents of Chenab Valley and Pir Panchal regions have been raising the issue of risky roads in Doda and Kishtwar districts for years together. Their pleas to secure the roads in these regions have fallen flat on the deaf ears as till date no serious effort has been put to devise a comprehensive plan to make these roads safe and minimize accidents. “Someone needs to tell our engineers that Chenab Valley and Pir Panchal regions are not the only places in the world which are nestled in the mountains. There are many places which are located at high altitudes but roads there are not so bad and are considered safe,” said an expert.

He said that sincere efforts are needed to make these roads safe. “Everyone would have to take his job seriously to prevent such accidents from taking place,” the expert added.      

Traffic policemen are also responsible for the accidents taking place in Chenab Valley and Pir Panchal areas and on Srinagar-Jammu highway. “Negligible presence of traffic policemen on roads in Kishtwar and Doda districts is one of the main reasons for the number of accidents increasing with each passing day,” residents claimed.

They alleged that authorities have made a mockery of rules. “Transporters indulge in overloading and get away by paying nominal fines. The first step the traffic police officials have to take is that they have to prevent overloading. Rather than imposing nominal fine for overloading the officials should seize these vehicles,” residents said. “Most of the vehicles plying in Chenab Valley and Pir Panchal regions are old and need to be discarded. Common man has no choice other than to board these vehicles as there are no alternatives available.”     

Ramban accident has also brought to fore the lackadaisical attitude of Jammu and Kashmir Road Safety Council. In February this year State Legislature had approved the new framework of the Council in order to check the road accidents with iron hands. But the new framework remained confined to papers only.  

Former Governor of Jammu and Kashmir N N Vohra on February 2015, while chairing a specially convened meeting, had expressed serious concern over failure to the concerned authorities to conduct meetings of J&K Road Safety Council after regular intervals for thorough deliberations on the issues, to suggest remedial measures and review action taken on the decisions by the concerned departments as road safety is a multi-agency task.

The then Governor had directed that J&K Road Safety Council should meet in every quarter to review the implementation of decisions taken in the previous meetings and pass necessary directions to the concerned departments. Similarly, he had directed Divisional Commissioners to ensure that meetings of the district road safety committees should be held on monthly basis by the concerned Deputy Commissioners.

After the former Governor passed the directions a few meetings were held but the process stopped after the PDP-BJP government took over the reins of the state. “It’s unfortunate that successive regimes have ignored Chenab Valley and Pir Panchal regions. These areas have been ignored. People of these areas have been demanding the setting up of hill councils like Ladakh Autonomous Hill Council but till date no heed has been paid towards this issue,” said a politician.

He said that these regions need autonomous councils which can resolve the day to day issues of the people. “Had the successive regimes empowered the people of these regions it would have made a huge difference. If Kargil and Ladakh regions can be made autonomous why cannot the same yard stick be applied for Pir Panchal and Chenab Valley,” the politician added.

He said that the political parties should stop playing politics over these regions and rise above the “vote bank” politics. “It’s the duty of the state and central governments to provide these areas with safe roads and it’s a pity that even after 70 years roads of these hilly areas are nothing more than death traps,” the politician added.  

MLA Kulgam and CPI (M) leader M Y Tarigami blamed the successive regimes for failing to come up with a clear cut strategy to prevent the frequent road accidents on Srinagar-Jammu highway, Chenab Valley and Pir Panchal region. “A House committee headed by me was constituted following mounting number of accidents in erstwhile Doda region and the Srinagar-Jammu highway. The committee had submitted recommendations before the government but unfortunately the same is gathering dust. This is unfortunate and utter callousness on part of the state administration which owes an explanation on the latest fatal road accident in Ramban,” Tarigami said. 

State Human Rights Commission took suo-motto cognizance of the Ramban accident and directed IGP Traffic J&K to provide details of road accidents in the state from January onwards.

SHRC chairperson Justice Bilal Nazki observed that a large number of road accidents take place in the state which devour many lives. “The reports suggest accidents prima facie to be the result of lack of supervision by the Traffic authorities and also because of conditions of roads,” the SHRC said and issued notices to Director General of Police, IGP Traffic J&K, Secretary Public Works department to file their responses within six weeks.

The Government has constituted a 5-member committee to conduct an “in-depth enquiry” into the October 6 Ramban accident. The high level committee shall look into the reasons for the accident, “fix responsibility, if any on official agencies, and suggest measures to be taken to prevent recurrence of such accidents on the Srinagar-Jammu highway and in Doda and Kishtwar regions.” The committee has been asked to submit its report by October 15, 2018.