Sovi Vidyadharan Red Bridge (Near LoC), Oct 24 (PTI) The October 8 killer quake, besides claiming thousands of lives, had also ravaged a key stretch of the Srinagar-Muzaffarbad road beyond Uri, leaving in limbo the fate of the 'Caravan-e-Aman' that ferried people across both sides of the divide for the past six months.
But the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) is working virtually round the clock here to ensure that the stretch from Uri to Kaman Post, the last border outpost on the Indian side of Kashmir, is restored on a war footing to facilitate early resumption of the bus service.
With Kaman Post being one of the three points on Loc that India has suggested to Pakistan for setting up camps for joint relief and rehabilitation at the LoC, restroring this vital road link has become a mission for the BRO.
Beacon -- the BRO agency in charge of road maintenance -- lost 60 of its personnel in the earthquake as massive landslides washed away large tracts of the road.
"Out of the total road length of 17.5 kms, around 11.5 km till Red Bridge has been partially restored. However the rest of the stretch till Kaman Post is a real challenge. We are hopeful that the road can be made motorable by early December," Chief Engineer of Project Beacon, S S Dasak told PTI here.
Work on the Aman Setu (Peace Bridge) which had also suffered damages, will be taken up as soon as the road becomes motorable, officials said, raising the hopes of people here who are eagarly awaiting the resumption of the bus service.
According to reports, two pyres of the Aman Setu have been damaged on the PoK side rendering the crossing of the bridge even by foot hazardous.
Officials say the restoration of the road from Uri to Kaman Post is a mammoth exercise since the road has been completely blocked by boulders that need to be removed using heavy bulldozers.
Since moving this heavy machinery to the area by road was impossible, Beacon has airlifted them with the help of Army helicopters.
"We disassembled two heavy bulldozers and had them flown by Mi-17 choppers to Udoosa (the last village on the Indian side of LoC) where they are being reassembled for operations. We plan to move in two more such dozers to speed up restoration of the entire stretch," he said.
Early restoration of this border road will not only help put the bus service back on track, but also facilitate relief operations to border villages like Udoosa, Jabala Garkote and Namala.
However, the biggest challenge for the Beacon team is continuous landslides on the stretch, which they say is a new phenomenon after the October 8 quake.
"Every time we restore a particular stretch and move ahead, landslides bring down boulders, blocking the road. This is a phenomenon we have been seeing after the earthquake. Much of our time is consumed in removing these huge blocks of rock," Dasaka said.
In order to meet this challenge, the Beacon team says it has selected three "attack points" -- Uri, Udoosa and Red Bridge -- from where simultaneous operations will be launched. This will save time compared to the conventional method of moving ahead from the starting point to the end, the officials explained.
And they are determined to restore the link unfazed by the tragedy that struck them on the quake day. As many as 63 of its personnel involved in road-widening work were crushed by boulders that came tumbling down on their vehicle between Weak Bridge and Kaman Post as the earth rocked.
"We are grieved by their death. But it has given us the motivtion to move ahead and ensure that this road, which the entire nation has sets its eyes upon, is restored as soon as possible," said Dasaka.
© Copyright PTI. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of any PTI content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without their prior written consent.