India’s Longest Tunnel Narrows Kashmir Distance

Prime Minister Singh throws open the tunnel, describes the project as dream of the nation

BANIHAL: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Wednesday opened India’s longest rail tunnel that would connect Kashmir valley through rail with the mainland India.

Hours before ending a two-day visit to the troubled state, Manmohan Singh rode with school children on the inaugural run of the train through the 11.21-km-long tunnel to link Qazigund town in the valley with Banihal in Jammu region.

Often described as the engineering marvel the tunnel is Asia’s second and India’s longest tunnel, piercing through Pir Panchal range.

The rail bridge between Udhampur and Banihal — the train runs through the Pir Panjal mountain range — is the highest in the world.

The tunnel was built at a cost of Rs.1,300 crores. An eight-coach train will operate on the route from June 27. The link cuts the distance between Qazigund and Banihal towns by 18 km.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and central Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, a former chief minister, were with the prime minister in the train.

After reaching Qazigund, Manmohan Singh went back on the same train to Banihal where he told a meeting attended by hundreds of people that the new train link will boost Jammu and Kashmir’s economic development.

Dr. Singh described the project as the dream of the nation, the foundation of which was laid in 1983 by the then Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi. He said he himself inaugurated the Jammu-Udhampur section of the rail link in 2005 and then in 2008 and then in 2009 Anantnag-Srinagar-Baramulla rail was thrown open for the public by him. He said the 119 kilometer Qazigund-Baramulla rail link was also inaugurated by him.

The Prime Minister said Kashmir railway project is part of the effort of the UPA Government to develop and connect Jammu & Kashmir with rest of the country. He said in 2004 on his visit to the State, he had announced a reconstruction plan for J&K, under which 67 projects were undertaken and out of these 37 have so far been completed and rest of the projects are under various stages of completion. He said widening of Khanabal-Pahalgam and Narbal-Tangmarg roads, establishment of 14 new degree colleges, 9 ITIs, upgradation of Srinagar airport to international standards, modernization of J&K Police, Creation of 12 Tourist Development Authorities in the State were part of the Reconstruction plan. Additionally, he said, projects worth Rs. 1000 crore were undertaken in Jammu and Ladakh regions to address their specific needs.

Referring to the recently launched Umeed and Himayat programmes in the State by the Centre, Dr. Singh said these programmes have shown encouraging results on the ground. He said the special scholarship scheme for the students of the State is aimed to bring them at par with their counterparts at the national level.

Tracing the history of rail in the State, the Prime Minister said the project was conceived in 1898 by the then Maharaja Pratap Singh. He said in 1971 Jammu was connected to railway network of the country through broad gauge to Pathankote. Later, he said, Mrs. Indira Gandhi took the ambitious project to bring rail to Kashmir in hand in 1983. Since then it has gone through a long journey of completion, he said while complimenting the Railway authorities and people of the State on commencement of railway service between Kashmir and Jammu regions.

In her address, Chairperson, National Advisory Council and UPA, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi assured the people of the State all out support in their progress and development. She said UPA during its two tenures has liberally funded the development needs of the State particularly in infrastructure development. She said construction of Mughal Road and tunnels on Srinagar-Leh highway are some of the big projects undertaken during this period.

Complimenting Indian Railways, its workers and engineers for the engineering marvel, Mrs. Gandhi said today’s inauguration would herald a new beginning for Jammu & Kashmir in both economic and social spheres of life besides creating ample job opportunities. She further said that the tourism sector which forms the life line of the state would also get a boost as more and more people from other parts of the country would visit this place.

Mrs. Gandhi maintained that the state has witnessed a sea change on the developmental front through various schemes introduced by the Centre as well as the State government during the last four years. She hoped that this momentum would be carried forward and the womenfolk of the state would be further empowered and youth provided adequate job opportunities with the introduction of schemes like Himayat and Umeed.

“The panchayat elections have depicted public faith in the democratic means and set up and we hope that the elections to the Urban Local bodies would be held soon which would further strengthen democracy in the state”, she said adding that these institutions will be empowered adequately as has been the case with Panchayats.

Earlier, in his address, Minister for Railways, Mr. Mallikarjun Kharge dwelt in detail about the history of Railways in India since April 16, 1853. He said currently 19000 trains run on 64000 kilometers daily all across the country ferrying about 2.30 cr passengers. He said Railway operates not on profit considerations but as a social responsibility towards the citizens of the country.

The Union Minister said that with the start of Qazigund-Baramulla rail link in 2009, the state has witnessed a turn-around with more economic activity and social connectivity. He hoped the State would benefit further with its extension to Banihal.

Governor, N.N. Vohra, Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah, Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare, G.N. Azad, Minister of State For Technical Education, Vikar Rasool, Members Of Parliament, Prof. Saif-u-Din Soz, Ms. Ambika Soni, Dr. Mehboob Baigh, Chowdary Lal Singh, Chairman Railway Board, Vinay Mittal, several Ministers, Legislators and other senior officers of the centre and state were present on the occasion. 

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