Amid multi- tiered security, Prime Minister Narendra Modi today inaugurated Asia’s longest bi-directional road tunnel Chenani-Nashri on the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway.
While some Kashmiris were busy "throwing rocks", others were cutting through mountains to bring development to Jammu and Kashmir, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said.
"On one side, there are those who are pelting stones, and on the other, there are youth of Jammu and Kashmir who are carving a future of development for their state by cutting through rocks," Modi told a rally here.
Amid "Modi, Modi" chants from the crowd, the Prime Minister said the tunnel, the country's longest, was a huge jump for the infrastructural development of Jammu and Kashmir -- that has long suffered from industrial backwardness and limited economic opportunities due to the lack of good road connectivity with the rest of the country.
"This tunnel is not just the longest tunnel but a big leap for Jammu and Kashmir in terms of development," said Modi addressing a crowd of thousands.
Referring to the decades of separatist violence, he said it has done no good but only brought bloodshed to Jammu and Kashmir. He said the youth of Kashmir Valley had to choose between tourism and terrorism to shape their futures.
"I want to tell the youth of the Valley, you have two paths which can decide your fate. On one hand, you have tourism and then there is terrorism.
"So many innocent lives have been lost (in the violence that began in the late 1980s). This has done no good to anybody but has only left the valley bloodied. This bloodshed has not done good to anybody but has only snatched sons from their mothers," Modi said.
"Had these 40 years been used for developing tourism, things would have been different."
Stressing on the state's tourism potential and ability to boost the country's per capita income, Modi asked the people to work shoulder to shoulder with the government and change the fortunes of the state.
The Prime Minister termed the Chenani-Nashri tunnel as the state's "fate line" and said it would boost the economy of the state and farmers would be able to send their produce to Delhi markets promptly, without concerns of delay.
The tunnel, that connects Udhampur and Ramban districts of Jammu and Kashmir, bypasses a dangerous hilly terrain of over 30 km of the strategic Jammu-Srinagar National Highway -- the only surface link that connects the Kashmir Valley with the rest of India.
Built at a cost of over Rs 2,500 crore, the tunnel, situated at an altitude of 1,200 metres, cutting through the mighty Himalayas, has traffic and fire control systems, video surveillance, FM connectivity and transverse ventilation systems.
In addition to saving nearly two hours from the over 10-hour travel time on the highway, the passage of traffic through the tunnel will result in a daily saving of Rs 27 lakh in terms of fuel used by vehicles.
The tunnel, which took over five years to build, will also bypass some 44 avalanche - and landslide -prone spots on the nearly 300-km-long highway, which shuts when it rains heavily and snows in Kashmir.
Modi congratulated the Jammu and Kashmir youth who worked to make the tunnel a reality. "The money for this tunnel came from the government of India. But there is also the scent of sweat of Jammu and Kashmir's youth in this tunnel."
He said the government had made every attempt to preserve the environment and the Himalayas while constructing the tunnel on the strategic Jammu-Srinagar highway.
"It's a message India has given to the world struggling with global warming," he said.
Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari told the rally that the central government had sanctioned Rs 2,100 crore and Rs 2,200 crore for the construction of ring roads -- one each in Jammu and Srinagar -- to decongest traffic in the two cities.
He said the government was constructing a total of 13 tunnels in Jammu and Kashmir to boost connectivity and infrastructure development in the state.
The government was planning to spend Rs 60,000 crore on an infrastructure development programme in the state, the minister said.
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti Sayeed in her address thanked Modi for supporting her government during the "difficult time" last year, referring to the law and order situation in the Kashmir Valley after the July 8 killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani.
"My government would not have been able to handle it alone," Mufti said.
(With inputs from IANS)
Here are the highlights from his speech:
* Our sole Mantra is development and the way we want to achieve that is through Jan Bhagidari. We want to involve the youth: PM
* Whenever I come to Jammu and Kashmir, it is natural to remember the vision and work of Atal Ji: PM
* I want to specially thank CM Mehbooba Mufti. The Centre announced a package for the state and work has begun on the same: PM
* The path of bloodshed has not helped any one and will never help anyone: PM Modi
* Youth of Kashmir have a choice to select one of the two paths- one of tourism the other of terrorism: PM
* Every Indian wants to see Jammu and Kashmir. The beauty of this land can draw so many people. Tourism will also bring economic growth: PM
* Another advantage of this tunnel is that tourists will benefit due to this: PM
* Some misguided youngsters are pelting stones but see here, youth of Kashmir are using the same stones to build infrastructure: PM
* Youth of Jammu & Kashmir worked very hard in the making of the Chenani - Nashri Tunnel. I congratulate them for this: PM
* This tunnel is environment friendly and this tunnel will help in the fight against global warming: PM
* I am very happy to be in Jammu and Kashmir today: PM Modi at the public meeting in Udhampur
* The tunnel inaugurated today is world class and it is matching the best standards: PM
"It is a matter of great pride for the people of Jammu and Kashmir that this great tunnel is being dedicated to the nation by none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi - the most popular PM. It is dedicated to the nation in keeping with his call for a new India," Union Minister of State in PMO, Jitendra Singh told reporters yesterday.
The tunnel will save fuel worth nearly Rs 99 crore a year. "Rs 27 lakh worth of fuel is likely to be saved per day," Singh said.
The tunnel will reduce the travel time between the two state capitals of Jammu and Srinagar by two hours. The distance from Chenani and Nashri will now be 10.9 kms (between two ends of the tunnel), instead of the existing 41 kms.
The Union Minister said that this tunnel is a game changer.
"It is a revolution itself. It is a revolution to be watched and studied. It is a case study itself. It is a wonderful creation," he added.
"The connectivity through this tunnel will decrease the time of journey by two hours. It is an alternative all weather route. It is an alternative to the highway which is closed at the time of snow and rains. It will boost trade and increase revenue in the state. It will also help boost tourism," Singh added.
The security setup includes elaborate deployments, area domination, checkpoints and alertness in border areas and vigilance at vital installations in the region by various security agencies, a police officer said.
Director General of Police S P Vaid has expressed satisfaction over security arrangements put in place by security agencies for Modi's visit.
He said the Batal Ballian area and around the venue of the Prime Minister's rally was sealed and area has been fully sanitised.
The BJP is expecting a huge turnout of people from various parts of the state for Modi's rally.