SRINAGAR: The delay in the opening of Chenani-Nashri tunnel on Srinagar-Jammu highway today sparked protests in Chenab Valley where dozens of villages have remained cut-off from rest of the world due to inclement weather.

The nine-km long Chenani-Nashri tunnel, also known as Patnitop tunnel, is India's longest road tunnel which will cut the 302 km distance between the capital cities - Jammu and Srinagar - of J&K by 31 kilometres.

According to officials, the work on the tunnel, which is to be inaugurated by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has been completed last month but "certain safety tests" have not been conducted yet due to snowfall and rains over the last month.

“Safety tests are being conducted inside the tunnel, so it is not feasible for us to throw it open for public use unless we get certified approvals and without completing the mandatory safety checks,” Hem Raj, Regional Director of National Highway Authority of India, J&K, said.

However, the residents of Chenab Valley, are alleging that the tunnel is being used by "influential people and VIPS" who are getting unhindered access while common people are being made to suffer.

"If the tunnel is not safe for commuters, how come so many VIPS and influential people get to use it. We are giving this government an ultimatum. If the tunnel is not thrown open in four days, people in Chenab Valley will hit the roads," Abdul Majeed, a resident of Bhaderwah, said.

The issue has also caused a stir in the assembly where members from both the Opposition as well as the ruling parties demanded that the tunnel should be thrown open for public.

"Why wait for PM for its inauguration when passengers are suffering," Hakeem Yasin, MLA Khan Saheb said earlier this week. The MLAs then stormed into the well of the house, demanding that the government must explain its position.

Replying to the members, Abdul Rehman Veeri, J&K's Minister for Public Works and Parliamentary Affairs said: “Government will look into the demand and verify the status of tunnel. We will look into the matter and will check, whether the tunnel is ready to open for public or not,” he said.

(Cover Photograph Basit Zargar)