Hindustan-Tibet National Highway disrupted by a Landslide – Daunting task for Administration to open road before Apple season

Making a daunting task for the Shimla district administration already tired of the sudden rush of the number of tourists and frequent traffic jams, Vehicular Traffic remains off on the Hindustan Tibet National Highway due to a massive landslide near Theog in Shimla district since June 18.

According to Subdivisional Magistrate Theog Surendra Mohan, the restoration work of the road has been started however it is keeping off-the-road connectivity to Upper Shimla which is completely cut off for the last three days forcing the administration to divert the vehicular traffic via Mashobra to Sainj route to Rampur and Kinnaur district.  Vehicular traffic for Rohru  Chopal and Kotkhai was diverted via the Fagu-Dhamandari route.  Vehicular traffic to Narkanda and Matyana was diverted via the Narail-Kyartu-Thela-Baldeyan-Mashobra-Dhali route.

A notification issued by the district administration on June 18 said that  National Highway-05 has been blocked due to a landslide near Theog. Because of this, the connectivity of Upper Shimla has been completely cut off. 

Public Works, Youth Services, and Sports Minister Vikramaditya Singh inspected the National Highway-05 obstructed due to a landslide in Theog on the spot on Monday. Former CPM MLA Mr. Rakesh Singha and party activists protested over the negligence on the part of Himachal Pradsesh Public Work Department Executive Engineer and National Highway Authority to construct many retaining walls without a culvert on the highway which lead to the landslide.

Local youths belonging to CPI(M) Showed strong resentment over the negligence being adopted by the department and administration cut of the Apple transport lines in the Shimla district. The road was used to ferry the apple crops from Kinnuar and Shimla district to the rest of the market in the country likely to be hampered as the alternate routes would not be economic for the farmers and traders and the proposed construction of the valley bridge may prove to the futile.   

After the visit, the Minister informed the media that one-way traffic PWD would be built on an optional 100-meter-long Valley Bridge.  With the completion of the construction work of the Valley Bridge, people would be able to travel on this road. Minster ordered the department to start construction work of Valley Bridge by today on the war footing so that it would be completed within a week. Minister also instructed the SDM and DSP Theog to work in coordination with the  Department for their improvement by identifying alternative routes so that alternative routes could be used till the construction work of Valley Bridge is completed. The department would further work to fill up a void or ditch created by the landslide on NH-5.

Closing down of the main apple roads poses a challenge to the farmers, administration, and government to facilitate heavily loaded apple trucks on the disrupted road and poor condition of the highway. It is worthwhile to mention that NHAI is busy widening NH03 and NH-5 however the construction quality and level of mining toward hills side is caving in a number of hills on the roads and poor drain and water culvert is playing havoc. Under construction, the Ambala-Shimla NH-5 junction also caved in near the Solan-Kumarhatti tunnel last year disrupting vehicular traffic. Both four lanes are served to ferry thousands of tourists and commuters likely to be affected. Shimla-Kufri-Theog and Narkanda are the main hotspots of Tourists as tourists rushed to these cool places during the sweltering heat wave.

It is unlikely that works on the bypass road would also be completed before the apple season however Minister has assured the farmers and CPI(M) leaders that the road would be commissioned earliest so that this road could also be used during the apple season.  The state is likely to get Rs 8 Cr from the Center for Theog by-pass road, but the department could start its work on the war footing after getting the funds. Minister has cautioned the department that the department would have identified such vulernable places so that such incidents do not repeat in other places in the future. He inspected the sunken part of Theog bypass road.  The department was asked to speed up the construction work so that road traffic could be restored before July 31.

It is worthwhile to mention that Deputy Commissioner Shimla Aditya Negi visited the affected road recently and also hold preparations meeting for apple season 2023 with the officer of all concerned departments on June 16 at Shimla. However this road cave in the intervening night of June 17 and 18 forced the administration to shut off the road which is only feet for the on-foot commuters.

According to Deputy Commissioner in this apple season, around 1 crore 54 lakh apple boxes are expected to be targeted, produced, and marketed from the district. It is a daunting task for the Sukhu Government to clear the apple road before the peak Apple season as previously NHAI, the state government, and HPPWD hold very poor records to restored road for months and years. One of the examples of a snail-paced restoration road is on the NH-88 and NH-243 between Ghanait and Kalihati near the law university as the valley bridge fell in the assembly constituency of the PWD minister but it is unfinished beyond the valley bridge for the last four years. Recently the minister has given a statement to replace this valley bridge. Keeping the promptness of government both state and center this bee busy road on NH-88 it is unlikely that affected NH-5 road could be restored very soon. The local youth of Theog and the assembly constituency were not happy with the government. It is worthwhile to mention that the Congress government have three cabinet minister from the Shimla district but the ground work of each of them is miserable.

In a press statement issued on June 16, Deputy Commissioner stated that he had already directed all the sub-divisional magistrates of the district to constitute committees regarding apple season in their area so that through the committee various problems arising during this period could be resolved in a timely manner however such preparation meeting was exposed on June 18 with this landslides however press note issued on the June 16 did not show any concern of the caving in a portion of the road.

It is worthwhile to mention that during the meetings with apple growers, truck operators, and pick-up unions to assess the requirement of vehicles for apple transportation. Apart from this, DC was also directed to fix the freight and transportation charges after meeting truck, pick-up operator unions, and apple growers. The administration had promised the farmer that if there is any need for the transportation of apples, the requirement of trucks from other districts and outside states will be met.

Interestingly for the first time state government decided to rope in the Indian Railway to transport apples to the outside market but it have to toil hard to carry the loaded multi-axle truck up to good trains. The administration also decided to issue a circular issued by the Director of Horticulture, the transport fee will be determined on the basis of kilogram or ton instead of the box, and road condition, weight, etc. will also be taken into consideration for rate determination.

Just two kilometers away the landslide Administration deiced to set up a control room at  Fagu, According to  SDM Theog it would be made functional by July 15, 2023. In addition, sub-control rooms will also be set up at Shoghi, Giripul, Khadapathar, Narkanda, Phedijpul, and Kuddu. Other facilities like telephone, fax, and CCTV cameras would also be installed in the main control room Fagu to facilitate the apple season. DC also ordered the police officials that in view of the apple season, a traffic plan should be prepared in all the subdivisions of the district so that the traffic system could run smoothly.

In an open letter addressed to Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu former Mayor of Shimla Sanjay Chauhan showed deep concern over the already stretching long queues of vehicles in the areas and Shimla town. He said that roads that have been built are not able to take much load and now this dreadful problem of traffic can be solved only by widening them or by working on some other option. 

” Widening of the road causes huge damage to the forest and land resources and it would also have an adverse effect on the environment. Therefore, to solve this problem, the only option left is to build a tunnel. For upper Shimla, if a tunnel from Dhalli to Sainj (Theog) is constructed on priority, it would reduce the travel distance of the people going from Shimla to Rohru, Jubbal, Kotkhai, Chaupal, and Theog and would reduce the time. 

During the minister’s visit on the spot on Monday former MLA Rakesh Singha,  Engineer In Chief Project Deepak Sharma, Chief Engineer NH Suresh Kapoor, Sub-Divisional Magistrate Surendra Mohan, DSP Siddharth Sharma, Superintending Engineer NH RK Verma and high officials of Public Works Department and party seniors were present.  Officers were present.

This highway known as Old Hindustan Tibet Highway No-5( 660.2 km long) not only facilitates the tourists towards the Tourists resort Narkanda and Kinnuar district but it is a portion of Ambala -Koric road between India and Tibet and blood vein for the number of hydropower project, apple growers and connect Rampur, Rohru, Kotgarh, Jubbal -Kothkhai and Chopal people from the state capital.

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