Skewed all along

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Skewed Bridge being skipped!

The earlier much-hyped skewed bridge has been again in the news in GK since last few days. One heading reads that “Govt. brings the twist in ‘skewed bridge plan” stating that after spending Rs. 8 crores on its construction, the J&K government has converted the much-hyped skewed bridge over Jhelum at Rajbagh into a pedestrian bridge under “political consideration.” It is reported that the government had defended its construction in a PIL stating that it would reduce traffic congestion in the city.” Besides, it is stated that “the decision to shelve its construction and convert it into a pedestrian bridge seems fishy” adding that the government has so far spent Rs. 8 crores on erecting its piers and other construction activities besides, it is painful to see public money going down the drain for unknown reasons. The executing agency of the project has reportedly stated that “another bridge will be constructed in the vicinity.”However, it has been reported that the construction of another bridge within few meters from the skewed bridge raises concerns over ill-planning and “bankruptcy of ideas.”Besides, the work is reported to have already started erecting piers for the bridge near a known flood outlet running parallel to Abdullah bridge and passes over J&K Emporium garden opposite Tourist Reception Centre. This bridge is reported to get completed in next two to three years. It is further reported that the officials and civil society members are slamming the government for “mindless” developmental activities at Rajbagh, which could be fatal in times of floods. The conversion of the skewed vehicular bridge to footbridge is reported to incur the loss of crores of rupees to Govt. exchequer.

The skewed bridge has generated lot of controversies for the last few years due to its design. Its target date of completion i.e. December 2014 was rescheduled to June 2017 due to the deluge of September 2014. The cost of construction of the bridge has been estimated to Rs. 12.37 crores and it was projected to reduce the traffic hassle in Srinagar, as currently, the Rajbagh area which is connected to the city centre by Abdullah bridge gets huge traffic. However, some experts had cautioned that the bridge foundation and piers may block water flow in the river. Besides, in spite of the controversies that raged over the proposal of the bridge due to its skewed design, the government announced its construction. It triggered a debate over its developmental benefits and environmental impact on river Jhelum.

Presently concern has been expressed as:

The state government’s decision to construct another bridge adjacent to Abdullah bridge over river Jhelum at Rajbagh would “increase flood threat” in Srinagar and could prove an environmental disaster as the piers and foundations of the new bridge shall act as the barrier in the water flow and can cause massive damage during floods. It was this very site in Rajbagh that was worst hit in September-14 floods. Hence the government must stop its construction as it would enhance flood threat over Rajbagh and other low-lying areas during high water discharge in river Jhelum.

The controversy on the construction of a bridge over river Jhelum in the vicinity has been raising its head since the eighties when the first ever proposal of the then just started convent bridge was got shelved under stiff opposition by the Institution of Engineers led by late Er. S.D.Drabu and the alignment was later shifted to the present Abdullah bridge. The negative points expressed that time were still valid when the skewed bridge was proposed and was again opposed by the engineers as borne out in GK dated November 02,2012 under the heading: “Skewed bridge construction is Dracula’s return from the grave” and GK September 16, 2012 “Engineers criticize skewed bridge, proposed Jehangir Chowk-Ram Bagh flyover” and GK November 15, 2012 “Omar supports skewed bridge”; when the technical opinion was over-ruled by a non-technical Minister.

It is an unhealthy trend in our state that every project gets politicized with the change of guard. Technical opinion from the experts is either being ignored, overruled or not sought for.

Some examples:

  • Inland water transport on river Jhelum (Project Report framed by M/S Rites at a cost of Rs. 25 Lakhs). The experts of international repute recommended the project for implementation being most viable and to be extended later on, on the upstream and downstream of the Srinagar city and other water bodies like Dal lake, Mansbal lake, and Wullar lake. Only green sign-boards were fixed on the de-boarding ghats with a few tiny boats unaffordable by the common passengers as against 50 seated vessel designed by Vishakhapatnam shipping company to serve as an alternative mode of transport to reduce the mounting traffic congestion and frequent traffic jams.
  • Mechanized Compost Plant for Solid Waste Disposal of Srinagar City (only land-fill of Achan wetland was resorted to.) Besides losing a precious wetland it has been a cause of obnoxious stench in the city and neighboring SKIMS hospital.
  • Low-cost sanitation scheme for Srinagar city with UNICEF assistance handed over to SMC- the results are untraceable. This project was aimed at reducing the direct discharge of faecal matter into the open surface drains flowing into the water bodies like river Jhelum, Dal lake etc.
  • Chrar-i-Sharief Development Project started with  HUDCO loan of Rs. 25 crores, returnable after 15 years in easy installments. The project suffered as a non-technical  bureaucrat was put in-charge of the project and the work got stalled.

Again for every construction work on rivers and waterways, it is incumbent on the part of the concerned department/s to undertake the model studies to arrive at the best solutions. This needs to be given serious thought.

In other states/countries a sizable amount is spent for getting the best consultancy and the projects are implemented strictly according to the prescribed drawings and specifications without anyone’s interference. This results into the best end product.

Hence the public needs answers to the queries that appeared in the media like:

  • Why mindless developmental activities are taking place at Rajbagh which could be fatal in times of floods?
  • If the foundations of the skewed bridge were designed and laid for the catering of vehicular traffic, why was the plan shelved after spending a huge amount of money on it?
  • If the Govt. justified in the Hon. court of law the construction of skewed bridge for vehicular traffic, why was the plan reversed now?

The Government needs to come up with answers for the satisfaction of all concerned.Er. Mohammad Ashraf Fazili FIE Chairman IEI J&KSC

About shahishaharyar

Chartered civil engineer,Fellow institution of engineers India, Member Indian road congress,Member American society of civil engineers, Presented over 70 papers in various seminars,published books over 36 on environment,history, sufi saints, genealogy,free lance writer, travelled in India and abroad.

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