Making Way

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MIAN TUFAIL

Railways and road connectivity projects have taken centre-stage in the government’s agenda, thanks to the visionary leadership of PM Narendra Modi. And happily enough, the results of this are making much-needed changes in Jammu & Kashmir.

THE awe-inspiring Railway Chenab Bridge captivated the entire nation when its images went viral last year. The region of Kashmir, once confined by geographical limitations as a land-locked territory, has now been liberated, thanks to the introduction of railways. The transformation is nothing short of remarkable, as the previously isolated area breaks free from its geographic constraints. Railways and road connectivity projects have taken centre-stage in the government’s agenda, unlocking the potential of the land and propelling it into a new era of progress. Indeed, Jammu & Kashmir is currently undergoing a transformative phase of connectivity and development, all thanks to the visionary leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

  • The railway renaissance

The cornerstone of this connectivity revolution is the ambitious railway projects that have been initiated and completed in the region. The Katra-Banihal section, a crucial link in the Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla Rail Link (USBRL) project, has been inaugurated, marking a historic milestone in the region’s railway connectivity. The completion of this challenging mountainous stretch has not only made the pilgrimage to the revered Vaishno Devi shrine more accessible but has also opened up the region to unprecedented economic opportunities.

The USBRL project, once deemed a logistical challenge due to the difficult terrain, has now become a symbol of engineering excellence. The new railway link traverses through tunnels and bridges, showcasing India’s prowess in overcoming geographical obstacles.

On February 20 last month, PM Modi flagged off the electric train from Srinagar to Sangaldan in the down direction and the other from Sangaldan to Srinagar in the up direction. This is the first electric train in Kashmir. The launch of this train will boost social and economic development in the Valley. The PM also flagged off the DEMU train between Sangaldan and the Baramulla station. This will provide a better transportation option for local farmers, traders, artisans and students. “Along with this, it will also promote tourism in the area, which will lead to more employment,” as said the PM on the occasion.

The PM also inaugurated India’s longest railway tunnel on the Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla Rail Link (USBRL). This longest tunnel, which is 12.77 km long and known as T-50, falls between the Khari-Sumber section, as per the railways department. According to Northern Railway (NR), trains can now run from Baramulla to Sangaldan via Banihal, which used to be the last or originating station earlier.
T-50 is supposed to be the most challenging of the 11 tunnels in the Banihal-Khari-Sumber-Sangadal section.

According to NR officials, the opening up of the Banihal-Khari-Sumber-Sangaldan section has brought them a step closer to achieving the dream of running a train from the Kashmir valley in the north to Kanyakumari on the southern tip of the country. “Earlier, eight diesel trains (four each from one side) were operating between Baramulla and Banihal. Now, eight electrified trains have started running between Baramulla and Banihal, and four of those have been extended to Sangaldan. The other four trains will also be extended up to Sangaldan after a couple of months,” the officials add.

The Railway LP tells KC that the new tunnels will bridge the gap between Kashmir and the rest of the country. Says he, “The Srinagar-Jammu railway will be one of the adventurous and marvellous engineering projects run by the Indian Railways. It will help generate employment and will truly integrate Kashmir with the rest of the country through railway tracks. This inauguration by PM Modi is a gift to the people of Jammu and Kashmir.”

The 272-km Udhampur and Baramulla part (known as USBRL) is divided into five patches and was implemented as a project of national importance. The 25-km track connecting Udhampur with Katra has 38 bridges and 20 tunnels covering a distance of 10.90 km. It has been operational since July 2014. The patch connecting Baramulla with Banihal (June 2013) through the longest 11.215 km tunnel was completed in different patches and has been operational since October 2009.

This left the most challenging patch between Katra and Banihal, a length of 111 km. By and large, it is either in tunnels or bridges. On this length, 37 bridges cover a distance of 7035 meters and 97.64 km of tunnels. What is interesting is that for borrowing 97.64 km, the Railways had to make an additional 66.40 km of escape tunnels.

The Jammu-Baramulla Railway link connects the Kashmir Valley with Jammu Railway Station and the rest of the country. The project has been declared as a national project. Institutions like IIT Delhi, IIT Roorkee, the Geographical Survey of India and DRDO are providing expertise in the project planning and implementation. This route will also see the construction of the world’s highest railway bridge and India’s first cable stayed railway bridge. After completion, this line will be all-weather convenient and cost-effective mass transportation system and will act as a catalyst for the overall development of the northern, most alpine region of the country.

This project has great significance for security and socio-economic development. It can play an important role in rapid industrialisation, movement of raw materials and finished products from J&K and encourage trade and tourism in the region apart from providing opportunity for employment. Similarly it will be a boon for development of agriculture, horticulture and floriculture of this area. Construction of the first three phases of the railway project has been completed and the line is operational between Banihal-Baramulla in Kashmir Valley and Jammu-Udhampur-Katra in Jammu region.

  • Road networks: Bridging the divide

Parallelly, road connectivity projects have been rapidly progressing, connecting remote areas and providing residents with new-found accessibility. The Zoji La Tunnel, a significant infrastructure project, is set to provide an all-weather road link to Ladakh, ensuring year-round connectivity to this strategically crucial region. Previously, the Zoji La Pass would remain closed during the winter months due to heavy snowfall, severing Ladakh from the rest of the country. With the completion of the tunnel, Ladakh will be seamlessly connected, fostering economic activities, tourism, and strategic defense initiatives.

Since Prime Minister Modi took a historic decision on August 5, 2019, of ending Articles 370 and 35A in Jammu & Kashmir, development efforts have picked up in the UT of J&K. The Government has, since 2019, initiated measures to strengthen the road infrastructure in J&K which have begun to show results:

Particulars Status prior to 2019 Present status
Road length 39,345 kms 41,141   kms
% of Blacktop roads 66% 74%
Average Macadamisation of roads 6.54 kms per day 20.68 kms per day (5035 km roads macadamized during 2020-21 under various Central and J&K Sector Schemes)
PMGSY roads constructed 1,622 kms. 2,127 kms
PMSGY rank at national level 12th   Rank 3rd Rank

Source: PIB India

 

  • The Prime Minister’s Development Package (PMDP) 2015

The implementation of the Prime Minister’s Development Package (PMDP) that was announced on November 7, 2015 at a cost of Rs 80,068 crore has been accelerated. A good 53 projects pertaining to 15 ministries are being implemented in Jammu and Kashmir in various sectors such as Roads, Power, Health, Education, Tourism, Agriculture, Skill Development etc., out of which 25 projects have been completed/substantially completed.

  • Srinagar Ring Road

Work for construction of the Srinagar Ring Road/ Bypass from Galander to Sumbal Road Crossing on Jammu Srinagar section of NHI-A has been awarded by NHAI. The ring road will traverse through 52 villages and five districts of Pulwama, Budgam, Baramulla, Srinagar and Bandipora. The entire greenfield alignment has been proposed on the western side of Srinagar city to cater to its inhabitants. Vehicles carrying heavy machinery to border/strategic areas such as Baramulla, Uri, Kupwara, Bandipora and Ganderbal will have an easier, congestion-free passage along this route. PM Modi, accompanied by Union Minister Nitin Gadkari, had laid the foundation stone of Srinagar Ring Road on May 19, 2018.

  • Jammu Ring Road

The Jammu Ring Road is being built as a four lane Green Highway, connecting Jagti to Raya Morh. This will help decongest Jammu and improve connectivity in this region. The foundation for this project was laid by PM Modi in May 2018.

  • Jammu-Udhampur Bypass

The upgrading of NH-44 to four lanes from Jammu Bypass to Udhampur Bypass is on. The length of the bypass is 64.579 km which has a worth of Rs. 2,626.33 cr. The bypass will decongest traffic in Jammu and will boost tourism in the State. It will also open new opportunities for the people of this region.

  • Delhi-Amritsar-Katra Expressway

The 669 km long Delhi-Amritsar-Katra Expressway will be developed at a total cost of about Rs 39,500 crore. It will halve travel time from Delhi to Amritsar and Delhi to Katra. The Greenfield Expressway will connect key Sikh religious sites at Sultanpur Lodhi, Goindwal Sahib, Khadoor Sahib, Tarn Taran and the holy Hindu shrine of Vaishno Devi in Katra.

  • Banihal-Qazigund Road Tunnel

PM Modi had inaugurated the Banihal Qazigund Road Tunnel on April 24, 2022. This tunnel has been built at a cost of over Rs 3100 crore. The 8.45 km long tunnel would reduce the road distance between Banihal and Qazigund by 16 km, and reduce journey time by around one and a half hours. The tunnel would help establish an all-weather connection between Jammu and Kashmir, and bring the two regions closer.

  • Chenani-Nashri tunnel

The PM had dedicated the Chenani-Nashri tunnel in Jammu & Kashmir to the nation on April 2, 2017. It is a benchmark project in the wake of ‘Make in India’ and ‘Skill India’. India’s longest 9 km bi-directional highway tunnel, between Udhampur and Ramban in Jammu & Kashmir, it is built at an elevation of about 1,200 m on one of the most difficult Himalayan terrains. The tunnel reduces the travel time between Jammu and Srinagar by two hours, bypassing about 41 km of road length. The tunnel has been constructed at a cost of about Rs. 3,720 Cr.

  • Economic, employability and socio-cultural impacts

The enhanced connectivity has spurred economic activities, unlocking the immense potential of Jammu & Kashmir. The region is witnessing an influx of Investments, as businesses find it more feasible to operate in an environment with improved transportation infrastructure. The new railways and roads have not only facilitated the movement of goods and services but have also spurred the growth of tourism, a sector vital to the region’s economy.

The improved transportation infrastructure has facilitated the exchange of ideas, traditions, and values between Jammu & Kashmir and the rest of the country. Students can now pursue education in prestigious institutions without the hindrance of challenging travel, and medical facilities are more accessible, improving the overall quality of life for residents.

The business landscape is poised for a significant boost since the cost of importing raw materials is expected to decrease. This, in turn, will give rise to large-scale employment centres, meeting the workforce demands of the educated population in the Kashmir Valley. Accessibility plays a crucial role in fostering employability, and the exploration of new avenues is set to address various issues. Connectivity, a major hindrance to both employability and cultural integration, has now been overcome with the establishment of rail and road links in the Kashmir Valley. This development is anticipated to uplift various sections of society.

Improved connectivity is not only beneficial for employability but also addresses health issues. The prevalent issue of massive traffic jams, detrimental to the health of patients, will be mitigated. Additionally, residents in remote areas will find it easier to reach city hospitals. The Jammu-Srinagar highway, previously prone to accidents, is expected to experience rejuvenation with the revolutionary advancements in the railway network and the widening of roads.

In the wake of PM Modi’s leadership, Jammu & Kashmir has undergone a remarkable transformation, breaking free from geographic isolation to embrace a new era of connectivity and development. The completion of major railway and road projects has not only unlocked the economic potential of the region but has also strengthened the socio-cultural fabric, fostering a sense of belonging and integration. As the connectivity revolution continues, the people of Jammu & Kashmir look forward to a future where they are not just connected to the rest of India but actively contribute to and benefit from the nation’s progress.

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