New Delhi: As part of its road connectivity programme for Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has stepped up efforts to develop the transportation architecture for the state which has witnessed an unprecedented cycle of violence in recent years.
These projects include developing roads totaling 683.31 km in length, with an investment of Rs10,204.45 crore, constructing the marquee 14-km-long Zojila tunnel and the 6.5-km Z-Morh tunnel on Srinagar-Kargil road.
The increased pace of work by state-run National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corp. (NHIDCL) comes in the backdrop of China developing the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), part of its showpiece “One Belt One Road" (OBOR) infrastructure initiative.
The importance of these projects can be gauged from their location. According to documents reviewed by Mint, these projects include four-laning of Jammu-Akhnoor section of National Highway (NH)144A, Punch-Uri road on a new alignment and Baramullah to Gulmarg section on NH 1A, which connects the Kashmir Valley to Jammu and the rest of India.
Other road projects are in the Ramban, Doda, Kishtwar and Chatroo divisions of the state.
Mint reported on 6 April about the NHIDCL being entrusted to build five tunnels worth Rs23,000 crore in Jammu and Kashmir with all-weather access by 2024. The other tunnels are Pir-Ki-Gali Tunnel on NH 244, Vailoo Tunnel at Sinthan Pass, and Daranga Tunnel at Shudh Mahadev.
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While NHIDCL managing director Anand Kumar declined to comment on India’s plan being tweaked in view of OBOR, he said that work was on at full speed for these projects in the state.
Kumar added that NHIDCL will be playing a significant role in J&K connectivity through its tunnel network, with work on Zojila tunnel to be allotted this year.
“The tunnel networks will provide all-weather connectivity and will be useful for movement of civilians and armed forces too," Kumar said.
India has expressed concerns over “sovereignty issues", with the CPEC cutting through Gilgit and Baltistan areas of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). India gave the OBOR conference a miss last month over Beijing’s insensitivity to India’s concerns.
Another government official, requesting anonymity, said that these projects have a strategic intent given the state’s unique geographical position.
OBOR, first unveiled by Chinese president Xi Jinping in 2013, aims to put billions of dollars in infrastructure projects, including railways, ports and power grids across Asia, Africa and Europe.
India has been expediting the pace of infrastructure creation in the state with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in April inaugurating the country’s longest road tunnel—the 9-km-long ‘Chenani–Nashri Tunnel’, which links Jammu to Kashmir Valley.
India accuses Pakistan of pushing in terrorists through the Line of Control (LoC) to foment terrorism in Indian-administered Kashmir—something Pakistan denies. New Delhi also says that Pakistan has been violating a 2003 ceasefire along the border to push terrorists under covering fire.