Snow and Avalanche Center 2019 Avalanche News

Men risk their lives to clear snow and get nothing from govt

By Raashid Hassan on April 26, 2019; Kashmir Reader

SHOPIAN: No communication equipment, no safety equipment, no guide posts, 300-meter-long avalanches, no retaining walls, and yet the employees of mechanical engineering department have cleared snow of the Mughal Road in 40 days, risking their lives through it all.

The snow clearance process was started on 16 March this year and ended on April 23. The Shopian side of the historic Mughal Road had been cleared of snow on Tuesday by employees and officials of mechanical sub-division Pulwama. Officials said that this season they saw at least 20 avalanches, many of them spread over 300 meters and rising 60 feet high.

“Some of these avalanches took us a week to clear,” assistant executive engineer (AEE), mechanical engineering, Shopian, Fayaz said.

Sanction of a separate mechanical division for Mughal Road is still a distant dream for the people and the employees. Despite being an alternate highway and an important mountainous road, no separate division has been approved by the government for this road despite many requests. “Since the road was thrown open almost a decade ago, we independently clear snow of it. We use machines brought from Baramulla, Srinagar and Anantnag,” AEE Fayaz said.

Employees of the mechanical sub-division said that they worked from dawn to dusk to make this road ready for vehicular movement, but they complained that those holding high positions gave them no safety devices or communication equipment.

“To communicate with officials or for any other need, we have to reach Hirpora for a phone. If any accident takes place, the person will die on the road due to lack of communication,” a field employee said. Another employee said that working in such conditions without safety gadgets is a high risk and shows the step-motherly attitude of the government towards them. The lack of guide posts further hinders the workers’ ability to identify particular stretches of the road and to communicate the information to others.

“They have nothing to provide us but machines, which they get from other districts. If Mughal Road gets a separate division then there are more possibilities of having safety gadgets and with sufficient machinery we can clear the road within days,” said an official from the mechanical engineering department. He said that every day the crew are taken in a pickup van and dropped on the site.

Officials from the department said that till Dobijan, which is 22 kilometers down the road, the snow clearance process remains normal but after that, till 35 kilometers, is an area prone to large and frequent snow avalanches.

AEE Fayaz added that the lack of retaining walls on the road also risks the lives of employees, as well as safety of machinery, because the road faces heavy rockfall.

Many employees who were deputed for snow clearance on the road accused the government of treating them as less than humans.

An earlier article for some background on the road:

Mughal Road awaits snow clearance with no staff to carry it out

By Raashid Hassan on February 27, 2019

SHOPIAN: With no mechanical division of its own, snow clearance on the historic Mughal Road is once again being delayed due to the lack of men and machinery. Officials from the Mechanical department Shopian said that the snow clearance process will be started by 15 March; however, the Executive Engineer Mughal Road said it would be started by April this year.

The 84-kilometre stretch connecting Kashmir with Poonch and Rajouri remains closed for almost six months each year due to the heavy snowfall in this avalanche-prone region. The road has not only helped the two regions it links to strengthen business but has facilitated cultural exchanges among people living in these two different regions. Many marriages have taken place here since the opening of this road.

Mughal Road passes over the Pir Panjal mountain range at an altitude of 3,500 metres (11,500 ft), higher than the Banihal pass at 2,832 meters. The road also reduced the distance between Shopian town in Kashmir and Poonch in Jammu region from 588 to 126 metres.

At this time, however, locals and those who do business with Poonch and Rajori say the closure of the road had halted their businesses for a long period. Snows in the region make them jobless, they said, as the snowfall always results in the closure of this road. “Either there should be a tunnel or the government should initiate an alternative to speed up the snow clearance process using modern heavy machinery and technical staff, so we would not suffer due to the road closure any further,” said Javid Ahmad Khan, a small-scale businessman from Shopian.

Assistant Executive Engineer Mechanical, Shopian, Fayaz Ahmad told Kashmir Reader that this year there is much more snow on Mughal Road as compared to last year and it may take them more than 50 days to clear it. “Having no mechanical division for Mughal Road, it often takes time due to the lack of technical staff. From 15 November to 15 March, we have to clear the general roads, and it is after their completion that we start the snow clearance on Mughal Road,” he said.

Executive Engineer, Mughal Road, division Shopian, DK Kaith told Kashmir Reader that the snow clearance on the 44 kilometre road will be started from 1 April. It will take them 25 days to complete the operation which, according to field officials, would otherwise take about two months.

Kaith also said that they work with Mechanical Division Anantnag for the snow clearance. When asked why this highway has no seperate mechanical division, he claimed that the Anantnag one is the division for Mughal Road; however, officals from the Mechanical Department said that the file for sanction of a mechanical division for the road is pending with the government and the officials have been waiting for it for several years.

They also said that there is more than 16 feet of snow in the Pir ki Gali area, which is much more as compared to last year.

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