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J&K Mughal Road Closure: Residents Suffer During Medical Emergency

During the second COVID wave in J&K, patients from Poonch faced difficulties in traveling to Srinagar for treatment.

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My Report
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Mughal Road, connecting Poonch to Shopian in Jammu and Kashmir, is a historical stretch that was named after the Mughal emperors, who used to travel on this route from Lahore to Srinagar and back. Before the Mughals, the road was called ‘Nimak Road’ which means salt route. Its current name was given by Sheikh Abdullah in 1978, the then chief minister of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. The road, as important as it may be, is plagued by untimely closures, administrative delays and strict “checks”.

As per J&K's Department of Tourism, the 84-kilometre road reduces the distance between Poonch and Kashmir Valley from 588 km to 126 km. Mostly in news for landslides and snowfall, this road has an interesting history.

Development of the road started in 1981 during the Sheikh Abdullah government under a Rs 18-crore project but was halted due to the influx of terrorism.

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Initially, the proposal for revival of the old route was proposed in 1950 but the construction started in the new millennium. It was finished in December 2008. The bridge was inaugurated in 2009 by the then chief minister Omar Abdullah and opened for the general public in 2010.

During the second COVID wave in J&K, patients from Poonch faced difficulties in traveling to Srinagar for treatment.

By 2012, with a double lane, Mughal Road was fully operational and became a ray of hope for the people of Jammu and Kashmir to fulfil their necessities.

Unfortunately, the route remains closed for almost eight months of the year. During the second wave of the COVID pandemic, patients from Poonch faced difficulties in traveling to Srinagar’s Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIM) for medical treatment.

Voices were raised against the untimely closure of the road. Workers from different political parties and civil societies registered their protests on social media.

Eventually, the route was conditionally opened for nomads and patients in the middle of May. The general public is still not allowed.

Like other facilities, Poonch is lagging behind in medical care also. The referrals are forced to travel hundreds of kilometers to admit a patient at Government Medical College, Jammu instead of SKIM, which is just 120 km away from Poonch. A former MLA of Surankote had tweeted about this problem in May.

Khusham* (name changed), a resident of Surankote, Poonch, has been undergoing medical treatment for a heart condition in Srinagar’s SKIM since 2018. For this, he used to travel to Srinagar and back once a month. The 47-year-old tells me about the problems he faces while travelling through the Jammu-Srinagar Highway.

Distance and time would be drastically cut short if he travelled via Mughal Road. Yet, most of the time, the road is closed due to the harsh winter and unnecessary administrative delay. “From April to October, the road is feasible for opening. I don’t know who else makes hurdles,” he says.

Poshana Checking a Mystery

Perhaps the most disappointing experience one can have on the scenic Mughal Road is the security checking at the narrow point of Poshana. The other minor checkpoints are Dubjian and Hirpur.

This checking is routine whenever the road is open for civilians. Dozens of vehicles, light or heavy, wait in long queues for their turn from both sides. It is mandatory for every traveller to appear before the concerned security chowki along with identity proofs.

Different types of questions are put forth by security personnel. People go through an iris scanner and are photographed. A questionnaire form is similarly framed.

Of all the states I have travelled to, security restrictions I witnessed at Poshana were unprecedented. People have protested against this on several occasions, but the authorities justify it by citing safety.
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However, is this reason just? Is it possible to streamline the entry and exit procedures so that travellers are not inconvenienced and security is not compromised?

Mughal Road was declared as a national highway in 2016, but despite getting this status, it has no mechanical division of its own. Unlike the Jammu-Srinagar Highway, the road lacks a snow-removal mechanism during the winter.

The 7 km tunnel project between Chathapani to Zaznar is still pending. The tunnel  project was proposed in 2005 to make the route safe for all weather. Immediate construction of this tunnel very important.

In addition to reducing distance, the tunnel will bypass avalanche-prone areas of the road.

It seems as though the mighty mountains of Pir Panjal are responsible for the misunderstanding between the people of Pir Panjal and the Valley. The proverb “divided by mountains, united by the road” is commonly used for this route. After witnessing these restrictions, I feel we are united by road and divided by check-posts.

( The author is a research Scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University. All 'My Report' branded stories are submitted by citizen journalists to The Quint. Though The Quint inquires into the claims/allegations from all parties before publishing, the report and the views expressed above are the citizen journalist's own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for the same.)

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