By Hilal Mir
SRINAGAR, Jammu and Kashmir (AA) - A construction worker died and nine others remain trapped under the debris of an under-construction tunnel that collapsed late on Thursday along the key highway connecting the Jammu and Kashmir region with the Indian mainland, officials said.
Traffic on the 295 kilometer (183 miles) mountainous highway, which connects the Kashmir and Jammu provinces of the disputed region, is often disrupted due to landslides and boulders sliding down hills during rain or snow. In the past, supplies to Kashmir have been hit for days when the highway got blocked due to such incidents.
The highway is in the process of being widened and upgraded to improve connectivity during rough weather, with several new tunnels constructed in the past decade. Another highway, used previously by the royalty of the Mughal Empire visiting the Kashmir Valley, remains closed during the winter months, effectively making the Kashmir Highway the only all-weather route between the landlocked valley and the rest of the world.
The body of the late laborer has been recovered, while three other workers were rescued during an operation that is still underway, said the divisional commissioner of Jammu, Ramesh Kumar.
Kumar told media persons that rescue work has been made difficult by debris from a massive landslide. Disaster relief workers had to cut through large boulders to reach out to the trapped workers, which many feared were dead by then.
- Disputed region
Kashmir, a Muslim-majority Himalayan region, is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed by both in full. A small sliver of Kashmir is also held by China.
Since they were partitioned in 1947, India and Pakistan have fought three wars – in 1948, 1965 and 1971 – two of them over Kashmir. Indian and Pakistani troops have also fought intermittently in the northern Siachen region since 1984. A cease-fire took effect in 2003.
Some Kashmiri groups in Jammu and Kashmir have been fighting against Indian rule for independence or for unification with neighboring Pakistan. According to several human rights organizations, thousands have reportedly been killed in the conflict since 1989.