Govt In Catch-22 whether to allow it or not 

‘Let the traffic flow on Zero Bridge’

IRFAN RASHID

Srinagar

 Although the wait for the opening of Zero Bridge is almost over but the purpose of the renovation of the bridge will be “killed” by the government if they turn it into Walkthrough Bridge with ban on plying of traffic.
The original purpose of the reconstruction of the bridge was stated by the then R&B Minister G M Saroori on 24th June 2010 as “to ease the traffic pressure in the civil lines areas of the city”.
“JKPCC has been asked to prepare Detailed Project Report early so that it is submitted to Centre under Central Road Fund (CRF) for approval,” he had said. The Minister had assured to release Rs. 1 crore under projectization for the purpose and asked the agency to start groundwork of the project.
The government has decided to open the historic zero bridge for general public at the end of this month. Ishtiyaq Hussain, Project Officer of the bridge said, “On November 30, the bridge would be thrown open for the convenience of the people.”  He said that it took Rs 642 lakhs to renovate the historic bridge measuring 500 feet (154 m) in length.
The general public in Srinagar is getting weary of vexed traffic jams with the streets of City’s centre Lal Chowk virtually chocked due to the heavy traffic, the bridge was expected to distribute the vehicular traffic substantially.
Expressing resentment over Government’s such erratic attitude, the locals of the Raj Bagh and adjacent areas say the dispensation has been with the deliberate attempts leaving the people of the city in lurch—exposing them to the worst traffic jams and chaotic times.
They said due to the closure of the old Abdullah Bridge, Srinagar has been deliberately pushed towards worst traffic jams. The locals of the area have already appraised the PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti about such ‘irrational attitude’ of the concerned authorities and the responsible Ministry but to no avail, they said.
Raj Bagh residents staged a protest on Sunday to press the authorities concerned to allow movement of light motor vehicles on the Zero Bridge. “We are facing a lot of inconvenience due to frequent traffic snarls at Raj Bagh. We want the government to allow movement of light motor vehicles on the Zero Bridge. It will ease traffic jams in the area to some extent,” said Jehangir Ahmad, a Raj Bagh resident.
“While the bridge remains completely shut, we have come to know that it is going to serve as a foot bridge after thrown open,” Ahmad claimed.
The agitated residents warned of intensifying protests if the government did not pay heed to their demand.
The protesters demanded that all the security bunkers present at the extreme end of the road near Radio Kashmir should be removed. “We will launch an agitation against the government if it will disallow vehicular movement on the bridge and we will not allow the government to construct kiosks and shops on either side of this historic bridge,” the protesters said.  “We demand the traffic should be allowed on Zero Bridge before New Year begins,” the protesters said.
Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed during a recent visit to the area had directed the Roads and Buildings Department to develop the old structure as a heritage bridge, displaying wooden decks in semicircle, food kiosks on both sides and a dedicated pedestrian pathway.
“If it was only for pedestrian movement, why did it take so much time? The portico like structures suggests that the bridge would be turned into a sight-seeing spot. After all, from this bridge one may get great views of traffic jams on Abdullah Bridge that is next to it,” wrote Musaib Zargar in his letter to this newspaper.
The opposition National Conference is also up in arms against such decision. NC Provincial President Nasir Aslam Wani said, “The purpose for which the previous Omar Abdullah-led Government restored the bridge is being defeated by the Government’s decision to not allow vehicular traffic on the bridge.”
General Manager, JKPCCC Vikar Mustafa said, “We also got such reports that government would not allow traffic on this bridge but it is not final yet.”
Minister of State R&B, Sunil Sharma said, “We will take the final decision in the best interest of the general public.”
HERITAGE BRIDGE
The six-decades old zero bridge was dismantled on April 4, 2012 and next year in April the renovation work began on the bridge. It was again hit hard by the great deluge in September 2014.
Accusing the last year flood for destroying many parts of renovated bridge, Project Officer Ishtiyaq Hussain said, “Though the foundation part has been intact but due to gush of water sub structure was damaged nearly 25 per cent, super structure was damaged nearly 80 per cent and decking was completely collapsed.”
The dismantling work of this bridge was started on 4th April 2012 and the then District development commissioner Farooq Ahmad Shah had directed the project executing agency on 1st may 2013 to make the bridge motorable by November 2013.
There are seven historical bridges in Srinagar, each one of them having its own importance and history. These bridges connected various parts of the city with one other over the Jhelum River. These bridges remind us of the saga and the architecture of that time. All these bridges have been constructed after 14th century when Srinagar began to expand its territory. These bridges or “Kadals” as locally known are the life line of the city. Now these historical structures are being crumbled and few have been replaced by the new concrete bridges because of the increase in population and traffic in the city. These bridges are an epitome to ascetic art of Kashmir.
Zero Bridge is one of the oldest bridges in the Srinagar. This bridge was constructed by deaf contractor and hence was called “Zorr or Zar Kadal” (Zorr in Kashmiri means deaf). Later the name modified into Zero Bridge. It is the iconic bridge that was constructed by wooden planks in 1956 during Prime Ministership of Ghulam Muhammad Bakshki and thus is also regarded as the point of the local heritage.
But the other version states that when the ‘city of seven bridges’ got an eighth bridge, the name was suggested as ‘zero’ for the bridge that came before the first bridge—Amira Kadal. The original name for the bridge was suggested as “Habba Khatoon Bridge”. It is a documented history quoted by Pervez Dewan and Trilokinath Raina in their write ups.
The new bridge has to be nearly 8 feet in height. “As a child I would dream of constructing a house on the bank of the bridge and I felt bad at the moment of its dismantling,” said Umar Bhat, a resident of Rajbagh.
To make the new bridge resemble on design with old bridge, government had hired skilled labours from different districts of Kashmir including Islamabad and Baramulla and even trained them further. Even a film ‘Zero Bridge Film’ has been shot by a Kashmiri film maker Tariq Tapas.
This new zero bridge is being built of Deodar wood that is hired by State Forest Corporation. The total amount of wood to be used in this would be nearly 2000 cubic feet. It would be a 9 span bridge.
“Only pedestrian movement was allowed on this historic bridge after its closure, as paramilitary bunkers were constructed on both sides of the bridge with the beginning of the separatist violence in Kashmir in the late 1980s,” said Suhaib Geelani, a local.
The bridge is close to the high security Church Lane area, which houses the private office of the chief minister, state guest houses where VVIP’s stay during their visits and the official residences of dozens of ministers, senior civil and police officers.
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