Integrated Kashmir

IN a renewed push to complete the Zojila tunnel, Road Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari inspected the west portal of the tunnel in Baltal on Tuesday. The work on the showpiece infrastructure project had halted in 2018 after the  IL&FS,  the big-time infrastructure lender, went bust. Now the government is making an effort to complete the tunnel by December 2023 so that PM Modi can inaugurate the tunnel before Republic Day of 2024. The tunnel will reduce the distance from Baltal to Minamarg to 13 km from the present 40 km and the  travel time will be cut by an hour and a half. Also, at 14.15 km, the Zojila tunnel will be India’s longest road tunnel, and Asia’s longest bi-directional tunnel. There is one more tunnel close to Zojila: the 6.5 km long Z-Morh which will connect Gagangir with Shetkari. The tunnels between them will ensure that Ladakh no longer will remain an inaccessible, remote region cut off from the rest of the world for six months through winter.

There are other important infrastructure projects in progress whose completion will enhance the connectivity in J&K and Ladakh. On Wednesday, Jammu and Kashmir Lt Governor Manoj Sinha laid the foundation stone for four national highway projects worth Rs 3,612 crore in Jammu and Kashmir, including the Srinagar Ring Road project. Speaking on the occasion, Sinha said that Kashmir will be connected to Kanyakumari by train by next year-end. He said that  11 tunnel projects have been approved for J&K in one year alone.

And once completed, the railway line and the roads will stitch Kashmir together with concrete and asphalt and connect places and people alienated from each other by geography. In recent years, efforts have been ongoing to connect Kashmir Valley all year round with Poonch in Jammu province through a viable road. It is called Mughal road. Efforts are also on to connect district Doda with Valley through shorter all-weather routes. However, what remains a cause of worry is the long gestation period of these projects which are set back by the tough terrain and the inordinate official delay in their execution. There is thus an urgent need to expedite the work on these projects  to realize the goal of a truly integrated J&K with its limitless opportunities for trade and travel.  The government also needs to rethink the wisdom of closing the cross-LoC routes like Srinagar-Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawalakot which promoted trade and travel between divided parts of Kashmir.

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