Ahead of the nine-phased panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir from November 17, residents of Hanga-Noori panchayat in Doda district have launched 'no road, no vote' campaign, as part of which they will not exercise their franchise, if their road complaints are not addressed.
Hanga-Noori panchayat, located in the western hills of Bhadarwah town, is crippled by poor road connectivity, locals alleged, adding that their prime demand is the restoration, black-topping and macadamization of the critical Domail-Hanga Road.
Irked by the "attitude" of the authorities, the villagers of Hanga panchayat recently met representatives of adjoining villages and discussed the road connectivity issue at Gathi Morh Hanga. During the meeting, it was unanimously decided that locals will not cast their votes in the upcoming panchayat elections, the residents said.
Since then the "no road, no vote" has taken off. The residents have demonstrated in public areas with placards, pasted related posters and have "endlessly" urged the authorities to repair the damaged portion of the six-km-long Domail-Hanga Road and complete other related works. Built in 1960 by the forest department, the Domail-Hanga Road was the first link road to Chenab Valley from Bhadarwah.
"The villagers have resolved to launch a peaceful protest with the slogan 'no road, no vote', as part of which the democratic process (panchayat elections) will be boycotted," an 80-year-old retired teacher, Tek Chand of Hanga village, told PTI.
He said the road was laid in early 1960's by the forest department for transportation of timber. The road was easily manoeuvrable as heavy trucks used it. However today, the road stands completely damaged due to negligence of concerned authorities, leaving over 2,500 people without "decent" connectivity.
"It has been very difficult to travel on this road for the last five decades. It has not been maintained, forget macadamization," Mr Chand said.
With the urban local bodies (ULB) polls in Jammu and Kashmir ending on Tuesday, the focus has now shifted to the upcoming panchayat polls.
Historically, Hanga-Noori panchayat has always participated enthusiastically in democratic exercises Bhadarwah, including the recently held ULB polls.
All the 10 districts of Jammu region, including Doda, recorded high voter turnout of 68.4 per cent in the first three phases of ULB polls on October 8, 10 and 13.
"During my five-year tenure as sarpanch, I used my good office and left no stone unturned to get this road macadamised but all efforts went in vain. Perhaps because we are poor and belong to the lower strata of society that we have been kept deliberately devoid of any road connectivity," former sarpanch Rattan Chand Bhagat said.
"Under given circumstances, we will neither vote nor anyone from our area will contest coming panchayat elections," he said.
When contacted, Executive Engineer of Roads and Buildings, Bhadarwah division, Bashir Ahmed Khanday said, "We invited tenders multiple times in the past for repair and macadamization of the road but found no takers. Out of the total road length of 6 km, 2 km is under the district sector and remaining stretch is to be covered by NABARD. We have again floated short-term tender notices. Hopefully this time we will receive some bids."
He said the government is trying its best to make the road motorable by laying shingle and metal on the entire stretch.
"If weather allows and some contractors come forward, we will black-top the first kilometre by end of November," Mr Khanday said.
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