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The current unrest in the Valley has stalled the construction of the ambitious Jehangir Chowk-Rambagh flyover for four months now, and the Economic Reconstruction Agency (ERA) says it is certain that the project will be missing another deadline and won’t be completed until 2018.
The flyover would reduce the transit time between Jehangir Chowk and Rambagh from 28 minutes to 2.5 minutes. Originally a three-year project, it is on track to miss two subsequent deadlines, the government had promised to get it ready by September 2016. The delay has now deepened the worries of businessmen and residents along the airport road, which was one of the city’s busiest roads when construction of the flyover began in 2013.
Shopkeepers say they were losing enough customers due to the overwhelming dust and sprawling construction equipment occupying most of the parking space when ERA decided to divert traffic from the area. This was a safety measure taken after the collapse of an under-construction flyover in Kolkata. Traffic police and roadblocks consequently put a near-end to traffic in the once-bustling marketplace.
“We had protested the diversion in April, and both the DC and ERA had promised us compensation. We submitted all the documents they asked for, and never left a formality from our side. But we haven’t received a penny till date,” say the storeowners from Haft Chinar, one of the affected areas. Haft Chinar also had its own bus stop which served as a continuous source for customers. But that closed down when the construction on the flyover began, and today, most of the stores are too. Many shopkeepers state that they had kept their shutters locked even before the current shutdown began.
While the airport road is struggling to see cars and motorbikes, alternate routes such as LD Road and the Bemina-Batamaloo Road suffer with frequent rush hour jams because of the diverted traffic.
Adding that he cannot declare when the reparations will finally reach the owners, Mohammad Iqbal Mir, Program Manager at ERA, said, “We have sent our request to the state government to compensate the storeowners in areas from where the traffic was diverted.”
Iqbal Mir noted that construction has stopped because Simplex Infrastructure, the Kolkata-based contractor of the project, has abandoned the site amid the unrest. Most of the workers were also from out of Kashmir, and they have gone home too.
Left behind are rubble and pollution. “We can’t open the windows in our homes. Our shops are laden with dust,” says a storeowner in Solina. Open water tanks that were dug into the road are today filled with green sludge. Residents claim that dust and bentonite, a chemical used in construction work, are causing lung infections in their kids and old parents.
Mohammad Azhar, Public Relations Officer at ERA, said, “The Environment Management Plan (EMP) is to be implemented by the contractor. Since they have left the site such problems are arising.”
The government met with Simplex Infrastructure in Jammu on Saturday. Though the workers remain reluctant to return, officials said they are hopeful that construction will resume soon.