Building Connections

  • Zia Shakir
  • Publish Date: Mar 26 2018 2:17AM
  • |
  • Updated Date: Mar 26 2018 2:17AM
Building Connections

Manzoor Nawchoo is helping make the Srinagar-Jammu highway a smoother ride



In 1948, Kashmir lost all land links to the rest of the world save for the Srinagar-Jammu highway. It proved to be a perilous path, lay as it did over fragile mountains and along devilish ravines. Prone to landslides and accidents, it has taken many lives. Other times, a hint of rain or snow would shut it down, trapping people and goods mid-journey, sometimes for weeks. 

Of late, however, travelling on the highway has started to get a little smoother – thanks to people like Manzoor Nawchoo.

Manzoor, from Budgam, is among the senior engineers working to widen the road and make make it less treacherous. The 60-year-old is with the National Highways Authority India, which is executing the project.

He said they have completed much of the work. He is especially proud of his role in constructing the 9.5-km Nashri-Chenani tunnel, which will shorten the travel distance by over 25 km, the 8.5-km Qazigund-Banihal tunnel, which will cut the drive across the Pir Panjal from several hours to less than 20 minutes, and a series of “mini tunnels” between Nashri and Ramban that skirt “accident-prone zones and blind curves”. They are also four-laning and “stabilising” the volatile Banihal-Ramban stretch. All this will make it an all-weather highway. 

“The Srinagar-Qazigund stretch of the highway will now bypass every major town such as Pantha Chowk, Pampore, Galander, Awantipora, Bejibehara, Khanabal, Wapoh and Qazigund, which means there will be no traffic jams and it would take only 45 minutes to cover a distance of 70 km,” he said.

Manzoor started out as a junior engineer in the state’s Public Works Department, working on the Ravi-Tawi Irrigation Complex Project in Kathua for five years before being transferred to the valley in 1982. He later worked on Upper Sindh Hydel Project in Kangan and the Dul Hasti Hyel Project in Kishtwar.  

“It was working on the power projects that I gained vital experience in tunnel construction,” he said. That experience is what landed him a job with the NHAI after he had retired from the state’s government service.

“In between I was lucky to help reconstruct the gutted Chrar-i-Sharief town from 1995 to 1997. I am also happy to have worked in all major hospitals of Srinagar, helping with their engineering.” 

Work on the Qazigund-Banihal tunnel, which includes a 1.5-km viaduct across a river, started in 2012 and is expected to be completed late this year or early 2019. “It will reduce the travel time between Qazigund and Banihal to around 17 minutes at 50 km per hour, the mandated speed for vehicles inside tunnels,” Manzoor said. “It is an all-weather tunnel, bypassing the mountain road from Qazigund to Banihal and further to Jawahar Tunnel. It boasts state of the art ventilation, lighting and telecommunication systems, first aid and fire-fighting facilities, and openings every 500 meters to tackle emergencies.”

Manzoor is passionate about urban development in Kashmir but rues that “almost all engineering works suffer due to political interference”. “Otherwise you would not see Abdullah bridge at its present location, the Teada Bridge at Rajbagh, the gandola at Makhdoom Sahab flying over graveyards,” he said.

He claimed that while with the Wakf Board, he had suggested that building an escalator alongside the stepped path to the Makhdoom Sahab shrine rather than a gandola would make it more accessible to the common man but the proposal was shot down by a “local political leader”.

Similarly, after conducting a month-long survey with 60-odd engineers, Manzoor claimed he had suggested the flyover that was then about to be built at Jehangir Chowk, Srinagar, should be four-laned. “But it was squeezed to two lanes under political pressure to save Jehangir Hotel,” he alleged.