Livening up the winters in picturesque Patnitop, three day Winter Carnival got underway Sunday attracting tourists in large number.
MLA Chenani Dinanath Bhagat formally inaugurated the programme. CEO Patnitop Development Authority Rakesh Sangral was also present on the occasion.
Organised by the Department of Tourism and Patnitop Development Authority, three day carnival includes cultural programmes in which prominent artists from within and outside the state will perform. Various adventure sports specially ice skiing will also be one of the major attractions of the festival.
The supply of electricity remained disrupted in several areas of Ramban tehsil since Wednesday night even as the locals accused the Power Development Department of “carelessness”. Power supply was yet to be restored by Thursday late afternoon.
Reports said power outage affected Parnote, Seri, Chandroog, Kanga, Halla, Rajgargh, Kumait, Dhanrath, Gandhri and Digdool villages being fed electric supply from receiving station Maitra.
PDD officials said disruption of electric supply to some areas occurred due to the faults in HT transmission lines due to wind storm in the area.
However, the consumers alleged that the officials posted here are not honestly performing duties. “There is no accountability in the department, that is why despite paying electricity bills we are not getting proper electricity”, said a local resident.
He said the employees have failed to prove services to their satisfaction. “Whenever approached, these officials pass buck from one to another to hoodwink innocent consumers of the sub division”, he added.
When contacted AEE PDD sub division Ramban confirmed disruption of electricity in some areas. He further said that his men are on job to rectify the fault which had occurred due to windstorm and rain that lashed the area on Wednesday night. “I am hopeful that electricity will be restored today itself”, he added.
The work of four-laning project from ‘Km 150 to 187’ was allotted to HCC under the conditions that the company also has to properly maintain the existing NHW, an official spokesman said.
District Magistrate Ramban, Muhammad Aijaz on Thursday initiated criminal proceedings against Hindustan Construction Company (HCC) for “failing” to properly maintain the Srinagar-Jammu highway from Ramban to Banihal, leading to various traffic accidents.
The work of four-lanning project from ‘Km 150 to 187’ was allotted to HCC under the conditions that the company also has to properly maintain the existing NHW, an official spokesman said.
“But even after warnings and rapid instructions, the company has not properly maintained the road. The stretch is in a dilapidated condition and is marred by potholes, choked drainage system, lack of crash barriers, broken patches, slippage etc. The condition has resulted in loss of lives and property due to traffic accidents.”
The ADC Ramban and ARTO Ramban have also reported about the worst condition of the NHW stretch at vulnerable locations like Marog, near battery Chashma, Ankoli fall, Digdole, Panthyal, Gangroo, Nachilana and Sherbibi where several accidents have occurred due to its shrinkage and non-maintenance.
In this regard a notice has been served to HCC for putting human life in danger due to careless and irresponsible working on the NHW stretch from Ramban to Banihal.
Exercising powers vested with him, the District Magistrate has directed the HCC to show cause for blatant disobedience of “Maintenance Clause” of the contract agreement and in the mean time a committee has also been constituted by him to quantify the repair cost of the NHW stretch from KM 150 to KM 187 which may be imposed as criminal liability on the company in case of occurrence of any untoward incident, the spokesman said.
Heavy rain and a reported cloudburst in the Patnitop area on Thursday wreaked havoc and caused widespread destruction in the Batote tehsil of Ramban district.
Three minor students and many heads of cattle were reportedly swept away. Several houses, link roads, culverts and crops were damaged due to the downpour, particularly in Boon, Badi, Gami and Tringla.
The traffic on the Batote-Doda and Jammu-Srinagar highways was disrupted for about two hours due to the landslides at several places on Thursday evening. Slush entered the mosque in Boon.
A total of 57 sheep and goats of Nazim Din died due to lightning at Kumait village of Rajgarh tehsil. About 15 heads of cattle and several sheep and goats were swept away in the Gami nullah.
Eight sheep and goats belonging to a Bakerwal family camping near Amar chasma were reportedly swept away in the Kathni nullah. A water mill of Subhas Chand was damaged in Gami.
Reports of widespread damage to property and livestock were pouring in from remote areas and being compiled by the Revenue Department authorities.
Ramban MLA Neelam Langeh said during the cremation of the children that ex gratia of Rs 5,000 each was paid to the bereaved families and Jammu Divisional Commissioner Pawan Kotwal has agreed to sanction Rs 4 lakh.
2 bodies recovered, several houses damaged in Chenani
Three students were washed away in a flooded nullah following flash floods after a downpour at Ladhwal in the Batote area of Ramban district this afternoon.
According to sources, the bodies of Rakesh Kumar, 14, a student of Class VIII, and Shallu Devi, 5, were recovered from a nullah this evening.
However, efforts were on to trace the body of another missing girl, identified as Pallavi Devi, 14, a student of Class VIII.
It is feared that she might have been washed into the nearby Chakwa nullah into which the small nullah leads.
The three were students of Government Middle School, Ladhwal, and were trapped in the flooded nullah as they were going home after school after 4 pm.
Meanwhile, Chief Education Officer, Ramban, Mohammad Sharief Chauhan, has suspended Jasbeer Kour (master), Dipak Kumar, Santosh Koul, Shagufta Ara, Gita Devi — all teachers of Government Middle School, Ladhwal, for ignoring the safety of the students.
The CEO has instituted an inquiry team to look into the case. The cluster resource persons or zonal resource persons have been directed to run the school till further orders. The bodies were kept in the mortuary of SKME Hospital, Batote.
Meanwhile, six shops and a hotel in the Kud market on the Jammu-Srinagar national highway were severely damaged in a cloudburst this evening. As per reports, a cloudburst led to floods resulting in road blockage and landslide at many places. Some houses in the nearby Chenani area were partially damaged in the cloudburst.
“The Assistant Deputy Commissioner, Udhampur, along with the Sub-Divisional Magistrate, Chenani, visited the spot. Machinery was pressed into action through the IL&FS, Chenani-Nashri Tunnel Project.
Project Director JS Rathore led the road-clearance operation. Meanwhile, the loss assessment was done by field officials of the Revenue Department. Officers have been deputed to supervise the relief arrangements for the affected families and shopkeepers,” said Deputy Commissioner, Udhampur, Shahid Iqbal Choudhary.
Meanwhile, traffic on the Jammu-Srinagar national highway remained disrupted for a few hours due to the flash floods and landslides.
Taxi plunges into nullah after being hit by shooting stones; Srinagar, Kishtwar highways shut
Two persons were killed and three others sustained grievous injuries after a Jammu-bound Sumo taxi skidded off road and plunged into the turbulent Bisleri Nullah at Gangroo in the Ramsu area of Ramban district.
Three passengers of the taxi went missing after the mishap and a search was launched to trace them.
The vehicle reportedly skidded off road after being hit by shooting stones around 12 noon. The deceased have been identified as septuagenarian Haji Mir and Mohammad Sikander Mir (40). The latter succumbed to his injuries while being shifted to the Ramsu hospital.
The injured comprised driver Manzoor Ahmed Khan, Ghulam Mohammad Mir and Riaz Ahmed Mir.
Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), Ramban, Randeep Kumar said at least three persons remained missing in the incident and efforts were on to trace them.
All the passengers reportedly belonged to Chak Syedpora, Shopian, in south Kashmir. Meanwhile, Jammu-Srinagar national highway was closed for traffic this afternoon following massive landslides, triggered by incessant rain, at different locations. The Batote-Kishtwar highway was also closed for traffic after landslide in the Raggi Nullah area.
“Due to continuous rain along the Jammu-Srinagar and Batote-Kishtwar highways, all kind of traffic has been suspended. Massive landslides have been reported from Ramban and Banihal areas, particularly at Sher Bibi, Panthyal, Battery Chashma, Marog and Anokhi fall,” a senior Traffic Police officer said. More than 1,000 passenger vehicles have been stranded at different locations on the Jammu-Srinagar national highway in Ramban district, the officer said. “Efforts are being made to keep the passenger vehicles at safer places. The traffic on Ramban-Banihal stretch has been stopped. Similarly, there would no movement of vehicles on Doda-Batote highway,” said the officer.
Doda and Kishtwar districts remained cut off from rest of the state after a massive landslide at the Raggi Nullah blocked the only road link to the twin districts.
Hundreds of vehicles, including those carrying essential supplies, were standard on both sides of the highway near the Raggi Nullah since early morning.
Superintendent of Police (SP), Jammu-Srinagar highway, Sanjay Kotwal said: “For the safety of the passengers we are not allowing any fresh vehicle from Jammu. Similarly, no vehicle will be allowed from either sides of Doda-Batote highway.”
He said efforts were being made to clear the stranded passenger vehicles. In Doda, Territorial Army postponed its recruitment drive following heavy rain.
Incessant rain since last evening and snow in upper reaches of Poonch has thrown normal life out of gear as many link roads in the hilly areas have been closed due to landslides. The temporary road constructed on the Pulast river on the Jammu-Poonch highway was washed away this morning, causing inconvenience to commuters. The traffic on the highway was diverted via Kalai Bridge in Poonch. Heavy snow was witnessed in Saujian, Khet, Chandimarh, Loran and upper reaches in Surankote. In Rajouri district, five houses suffered damages due to continuous downpour.
Inquiry committee says safety measures remained on paper
Beig Construction Company, which is building the country’s longest 9.2-km Chenani-Nashri tunnel, has been found guilty of criminal negligence that resulted in the death of 10 labourers in a fire in Ramban on December 31 night.
Besides Beig Construction Company (BCC), a Turkish construction company, Servonik, which is also involved in construction of the tunnel, has been found equally responsible for the incident.
The inquiry committee, headed by Additional Deputy Commissioner, Ramban, Babu Ram was assigned the task to probe the incident. Sources told KP that the inquiry committee had found that safety measures were not taken by the construction companies, leading to the death of the 10 labourers.
The labourers died in a fire that broke out in temporary sheds outside the tunnel in the Nashri area on New Year.
As per an eyewitness account, the fire broke out due to a short circuit and went out of control. The labourers who were killed were sleeping and could not come out on time.
The inquiry committee has found that the safety measures remained only on paper.
“There was no water in the overhead tanks to which pipes were connected. When the fire broke out, an alarm bell rung — an indication that automatic water jets will flow water to the area through pipes but it did not happen as there was no water,” said a source.
The inquiry officer told KP that a case of criminal negligence would be filed against the two companies.
BCC and Servonik were sublet work by Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services (IL&FS) Limited, the main developer, after it ended its contract with Leighton India when differences cropped up between them over payment.
“Leighton had created all facilities, keeping in view the safety measures required. The new companies haven’t taken the required steps,” the source said. Now, questions are being raised whether BCC has got the experience to work on such big projects.
“BCC had no such experience when it was allotted the tunnel work by IL&FS. Questions are being raised as on what basis was the tunnel work allotted to the company,” the source added.
Chenani-Nashri tunnel to put question mark on its future prospects
The Chenani-Nashri tunnel is nearing completion and is expected to be thrown open to traffic in May next year. The new road connectivity has put a big question mark on the future prospects of Patnitop, which will be bypassed.
The successive state governments have abandoned Patnitop and projects for its maintenance and beautification has failed to move beyond paper.
Even the slogan of Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, who is also holding the charge of the Tourism Ministry, to make Jammu an independent tourist destination is yet to see the light of the day. Projects like ropeway to Nathatop, toy train in Patnitop and connecting Mantalai with Patnitop through cable car failed to get materialised.
Once the Chenani-Nashri tunnel is thrown open to the traffic, road connectivity to Patnitop, which is already in a shambles, will get further deteriorated as it will not remain with the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) for maintenance.
Situated at a height of 2,024 m, Patnitop is 112 km from Jammu. This is the most famous tourist resort of the Jammu region. This being the nearest tourist station for Mata Vaishno Devi shrine, pilgrims from outside the state used to visit the place and come back to Jammu in a single day.
Schools from Jammu, Udhampur, Ramban, Doda and Kishtwar used to take their students for a picnic to Patnitop. But all this has come down drastically and now very few people visit the area as it is not maintained properly. Not a single step of beautification has been taken by the Tourism Department to attract tourists and sell Patnitop at national and international level.
“Within five years, you will see Jammu becoming an independent tourist destination. We are working on multiple projects, but they will take time to get materialised,” said Farooq Ahmed Shah, secretary, Tourism.
He said not only Patnitop but also all tourist destinations of Jammu were being paid proper attention.
When asked whether all these projects were only on papers and nothing has been done on ground, he said, “These projects don’t get completed in days, but take time.”
While people of the state have pinned hopes on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit here tomorrow, local hoteliers and owners of mini-buses and taxis are making a fast buck.
They have a reason to smile as all the available rooms and huts of Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Development Corporation (JKTDC) at Patnitop and Batote have been booked.
All hotels at Batote and district headquarter Ramban were booked a couple of days ago by the officers and media persons visiting the venue of the PM’s rally.
“I feel satisfied as all 20 rooms and five huts of the JKTDC at Patnitop have been booked by the Ramban district administration. It is a respite for us as during this lean period, our occupancy is reduced to only 15% despite 40% discount,” said Manager, JKTDC, Patnitop.
Bilal Ahmed, manager, Hotel Maple of JKTDC at Batote, said all 16 rooms have been booked by the Ramban district administration and the JK Power Development Corporation for three days.
“It is a respite for us in this lean season as this would accrue an income of at least Rs 45,000. Besides, we would also earn through the meals ordered by the guests in our restaurant,” said Bilal.
“I am happy as all 17 rooms of my hotel have been booked for three days mostly by media men, especially the Doordarshan people,” said Munish Gupta, owner of Subhas Regency, Batote.
The PM’s visit has also given a chance of earning to transporters as almost all taxis and mini-buses at Batote, Ramban and Patnitop have been hired by the ruling BJP- PDP leaders for ferrying their workers and people to the venue of the rally.
“Given the ongoing lean tourism season in the state, our taxis have been lying idle for the past some weeks. I feel satisfied as all my four taxis have been hired by a local BJP leader for November 7,” said Devraj of Tringla, a taxi owner.