It will end isolation of Kashmir Valley at winter and usher in growth in the region, says Manmohan
Waving a green flag, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi scripted a red letter day on Wednesday, launching a rail project to connect Kashmir with Jammu and the rest of the country.
First, they inaugurated the newly constructed station at Banihal, the last one in Jammu, and then the 11.215-km Pir Panjal tunnel, before boarding the train they themselves flagged off.
They travelled through the country’s longest transport tunnel, which links the valley to Jammu and opens up a new horizon of development in the State, ending its isolation from the rest of the country at winter.
They enjoyed the 12-minute ride to Qazigund with 100 students, mostly girls, of the Banihal Higher Secondary School, and made the 17.8-km ride back to Banihal, passing through the tunnel, the second longest in Asia. Those who accompanied them were Governor N.N. Vohra, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, Railway Minister Mallikarjun Kharge and Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad.
Dr. Singh and Ms. Gandhi interacted with the students and assured them of a prosperous future.
Hailing the Banihal-Qazigund section, which IRCON International executed at a cost of Rs.1,672 crore, as an engineering marvel, Dr. Singh said its importance was far greater as it would end the isolation of the valley at winter and speed up people-to-people contact across the country, besides boosting tourism. The rail link would make Jammu and Kashmir an integral part of the country’s development, he said, highlighting the scope for more growth in trade in commodities among various regions.
Dr. Singh asked the Railways to complete the Katra-Banihal section at the earliest so that the people and the region could be better linked to the rail network nationwide.
The Katra-Banihal section, comprising the highest bridge across the Chenab river, is considered the toughest portion of the Jammu-Srinagar-Baramulla link. It is expected to be completed by December 2017.
The Chief Minister exuded confidence that the return of UPA III would ensure the completion of the remaining section of Banihal to Katra and the whole rail link project.
Describing the rail project as part of the United Progressive Alliance’s efforts at developing the State, Dr. Singh said 34 of the 67 projects announced in 2004 had so far been executed. He said Rs.7,215 crore had been sanctioned for completing the rest. A sum of Rs.1,000 crore had been allocated for skills development and employment generation for the State’s youth.
Ms. Gandhi said the linking of the Jammu region to the Kashmir Valley was the fulfilment of a dream that seemed impossible. The project was a matter of pride because the Railways had to overcome several challenges. It would usher in a new era of development and boost handicraft and tourism and create jobs for youth and an opportunity for the people living on the edge, especially women, to change their lifestyle.
Roads and highways were also being developed, with priority for rural roads, she said.
Mr. Abdullah said the project would change the lives of the people by boosting trade and tourism. It would not only connect the two regions of the State but also the hearts of the people.