A century later
The inauguration of the Banihal-Qazigund railway line marks the realisation of a 124-year-old dream,that of a Dogra ruler. Maharaja Pratap Singh conceived the idea of a Jammu-to-Kashmir line in 1889. The British proposed a line between Srinagar and Rawalpindi in 1902 and then again in 1905,but the Maharaja wanted one between Jammu and Srinagar. The project was put on hold until prime minister Indira Gandhi revived it in 1983. Though it will be a truncated link with work yet to be completed on the Katra-Banihal section,it has reduced the distance between Banihal (Jammu) and Qazigund (Kashmir) by half from 35 km by road to 17.5 km by train. The 11-km tunnel inaugurated last week (pictured) is Indias longest; parallel to it runs a three-metre-wide road for use by small vehicles during exigencies,especially during winters,when the rail tunnel is likely to be closed for days at a time.
Roads to nowhere
Over Rs 2,000 crore having been spent,many roads built under the Prime Ministers Grameen Sadak Yojna (PMGSY) still lead nowhere. This was declared by Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and later endorsed by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah in front of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi before a crowd nearly 30,000 strong at Kishtwar. Pointing out that the road density in the hilly Doda,Kishtwar and Ramban districts is only five per cent,the lowest in the country,Azad attributed this to the absence of a dedicated fund for acquisition of land. The Rs 550 crore sanctioned by the Prime Minister for this purpose has been exhausted,and the state needs Rs 750 crore more for acquisition so that the roads partly built can be completed.
Progress and ecology
UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi,visiting the state last week,stressed a balance between growth and environment. Amid calls for larger hydel projects,she said such projects are necessary when power is an essential part of life but added that the ecology and biodiversity of the area too have to be protected. She was speaking during a ceremony where the foundation stone was laid for an 850-MW Rattle hydel project on the river Chenab. While describing it as a big step towards generation of employment and development in the area,she added,We cannot forget the large-scale loss of life and devastation due to floods in Himachal Pradesh and especially Uttarakhand.