The ongoing widening of the Kalka-Shimla highway that is envisaged to cut travel time between Chandigarh and Shimla has deterred many tourists and Tricity residents from visiting their usual favourite destinations uphill this year. The four-laning project and the use of heavy machinery in the construction has resulted in a number of landslides along the route which has also slowed down the work of the highway expansion.
The drive to the favourite tourist spots along the under-construction NH-22 is a daunting task — mountains are sliding, road is filled with dust, uprooted trees and big boulders along the sides are still waiting to be lifted and uncovered craters are a common sight. “The first and foremost issue right now we are facing is how to control the mountains from sliding. We had begun the work after much delay due to the adverse NGT orders but this could further delay it,” said an official associated with the National Highways Authority of India on condition of anonymity.
The first phase of the four-laning of the NH-22, which is part of the historical Hindustan-Tibet Road, starts from Parwanoo bypass to Solan and was expected to be completed by March 2018 but officials say the road up to Dharampur is likely to be completed by mid-April next year and further up to Solan till September. “We had to face the land acquisition problems in initiating the project and then there were other issues as well which delayed the project,” said Gursewak Singh Sangha, the NHAI’s regional officer in Shimla.
A dispute over the continual sliding of the hills has already cropped up between the NHAI and the contractor company which, according to sources, has said it is adding to the costs and it requires more land in the area to bring it under control.
According to officials, the four-lane road according to the agreement has to be built on the 32-metre land but the company has now said 45 metres will be needed to control the sliding. Sangha denied that there was a continual sliding along the under-construction highway and said the accumulated volume alongside the road would be cleared within one month. “The landslide has already occurred and when it is lifted from the area, we would be able to assess the full condition,” he said.
The road right from Timber Trail to Jabli and ahead up to Dharampur is under construction right now. Machines and workers are a common sight along the route. The road expansion in the initial stage involves cutting of the hills and fencing it to prevent further sliding. Over a dozen landslides on the highway during the monsoon in June had exposed the fragile ecology of the mountainous road.
According to officials, at least seven-eight residents living along the route have complained that the landslide and erosion in the hills has also resulted in cracks in their houses. The locals are now claiming compensation for the damage to their houses. NHAI officials say there could be “other reasons” behind the damage.
“Such a huge project required a wide discussion and planning besides a detailed geological mapping focused on about an area of two km on both sides of the proposed road. Who are the technical experts? Were Geological Survey of India experts consulted? There are experts in other institutes too. I have not heard from anyone if they were ever consulted,” said Professor Arun Deep Ahluwalia, the former head of Panjab University’s Department of Geology.
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According to the NHAI officials, the tendering process for the second phase of the project has already been completed. The phase involves the 23-km stretch from Solan to Kaithlighat. The final stretch of the road involves the road expansion from Kaithlighat to Dhalli in the forested stretch for which the bidding process has been completed.
Experts maintain the area and its adjoining villages are already in a mess and it is already too late to mitigate the losses. “Although it is late, yet it is wise to go slow in the larger public interest,” said Ahluwalia.The four-laning of Kalka-Shimla highway is posing a lot of problems — mountains are sliding, road is filled with dust. Experts advise it is wise to go slow in the larger public interest