On highway to Shimla? Be ready for rough ride

By Vishal Gulati, IANS,

Shimla : If you are planning to visit Shimla or its nearby hills in Himachal Pradesh, don’t be too sure of a smooth ride. Traffic snarls have become an everyday story as work on the strategic National Highway-22 has choked the narrow road and made the mountain earth loose.

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The National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) is widening the 40-km-long Chandigarh-Shimla national highway even as some environmentalists are calling the project an ecological disaster. It started the work between Parwanoo and Solan towns and is currently cutting the steep hills near Timber Trail Hotel on the outskirts of Parwanoo, the first town of the hill state located at the Haryana border.

“A moderate rainfall triggers massive landslides along the highway as the earth becomes loose due to the cutting of hills and the movement of road construction machines. This leads to traffic jams almost every day,” Dheeraj Bhaik, a daily commuter on the highway, said.

“Due to the road widening work on the highway, earth is becoming loose, leading to landslides,” he said.

Bhaik said the heavy movement of apple-laden trucks was also leading to traffic chaos on the highway.

“It took me more than six hours to reach Shimla (from Chandigarh) last (Friday) evening. Usually, it’s a four-hour journey. First, we were stuck near Parwanoo due to landslides and then near Dharampur town where an overloaded truck overturned,” Swati Aggarwal, a tourist from Chandigarh, told IANS.

She said even falling boulders pose a threat to the safety of motorists where NHAI work is in progress.

Adding to the woes of commuters, an NHAI official said the widening of the road will take more than a year to complete as the cutting of slopes has just started near the Timber Trail Hotel.

“It will take more than a year just to excavate hills to widen the proposed 40-km stretch of the highway. After that carpeting and tarring will be done,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

Under the highway widening project, the 106-km stretch from Parwanoo to Dhalli near Shimla would be four-laned. Initially, only the 40-km stretch between Parwanoo and Solan would be widened.

With the NHAI work continuing on the highway, police have been diverting the traffic bound for Solan and Shimla via Kasauli from Parwanoo in case of landslides.

“We divert traffic towards Kasauli from Parwanoo if there are massive landslides. We have deployed sufficient personnel to man vehicles, especially trucks carrying apples,” Assistant Superintendent of Police Ramesh Pathania said.

The detour via Kasauli would mean an extra 20 km for motorists on a small stretch. The journey time on this route could be more by an hour.

Baljit Malik, an environmentalist based at Kasauli, the picturesque town located uphill of NH-22, calls the highway widening an “ecological disaster”.

“The blasting of rocks and massive excavation is destabilising the fragile hills. It should be stopped; otherwise the strata lying uphill of the highway would become unstable again,” he said.

It took more than three decades to stabilise the strata along the highway by erecting breast walls and retaining structures and planting trees. “Now, the government is again plundering the hills,” Malik said.

Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, who also holds the home portfolio, however, said: “Additional security personnel have been deployed across the state for regulating traffic during the ongoing apple season.”

On an average, over 200,000 boxes are being despatched out of the state every day. The apple harvesting that began in July-end would continue till October.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at [email protected])