Banihal (JK), Jun 26: In a giant leap in connectivity between the Kashmir Valley and Jammu region, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today inaugurated the 18-km long Banihal-Qazigund section of the ambitious mountain railway, promising all support for development of the state.
Flanked by UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, Governor N N Vohra and central ministers, the Prime Minister flagged off the first train and boarded it for a journey across the 11-km tunnel, the longest in the country, through the difficult terrain of Pir Panjal ranges.
Gandhi and others also accompanied him in the brief journey.
“I assure you that the Centre will provide all possible support to Jammu and Kashmir for its development,” Singh said addressing the gathering at the function winding up his two-day visit to the state which had witnessed a terror attack on Monday in which eight soldiers were killed.
The rail link to Kashmir, the most beautiful part of the country, will help boost tourism, movement of people, business and enable more employment opportunities for the people of the state, he said.
The Banihal-Qazigund section, which reduces the 35 km distance by road to half, was constructed at a cost of about Rs 1,700 crore.
The Udhampur-Katra-Banihal section, which will connect the Kashmir valley with the rest of the country's rail network, is expected to be completed by 2017. “I am very hopeful that the remaining work will be completed within the stipulated time so that the people of Kashmir can benefit from this all-weather surface link,” Singh said.
Speaking at the function, Gandhi said UPA was aware of the sentiments of the people of Jammu and Kashmir and affirm that solution to any problem lies in the democratic set up of the country through discussions and deliberations.
The Chief Minister used the occasion to make a veiled attack on BJP for raking up the issue of Article 370 saying the special status for the state was being used as a political issue by the party to be befool people.
While train service is already operational within the valley on the 118-km long route between Qazigund and Baramulla in North Kashmir, the 148-km Katra-Qazigund line is expected to be completed in three years.
The 25-km Udhampur-Katra section is likely to be opened in a few months. The Prime Minister said the railway project was conceived by Maharaja Pratap Singh in 1898 and the project was approved in 1905.
“In 1971, Jammu was connected with rest of the country and in 1983, Indira Gandhi started the work on this extremely important rail link,” he said.
In her speech, Gandhi made an apparent reference to the terror attack when she said that “I am fully aware that occasionally something happens which is very painful.
“I want to say that we understand the sentiments of the people of Jammu and Kashmir and we strongly believe that our democracy is so strong that any problem can be settled through discussions, deliberations and understanding.” While complimenting Omar Abdullah led National Conference-Congress alliance government, Gandhi said “I am of the opinion that the elections to the local bodies should be held on time and they should be given full powers and financial support.”
“There is a new hope in Jammu and Kashmir which we have to take care of and strengthen very soon,” she said adding the people of the state were desirous of a better future based on secularism and equal development. “We will support the people of Jammu and Kashmir and will ensure their brighter future,” she said.
Gandhi praised the Chief Minister and said the heavy participation of people in Panchayat elections demonstrated that the people of the state were fed up with violence and wanted peace.
She said the youth of the state wanted quality education and better employment opportunities while women want to be independent so that there is a change in their daily lives. Gandhi said the Centre is focusing on constructions of all weather roads in far-flung areas for the benefit of the people.
“I am very hopeful that the UPA government will provide all assistance to ensure completion of Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojna scheme in the state. Referring to the start of rail serve between Banihal and Qazigund, Gandhi said it will promote tourism and other activities.
“This is a beginning of a phase which will create employment opportunities for the youth of this region besides helping the people to remain connected with outside world throughout the year especially during winter season,” she said.
Over the last few years, The Congress president said UPA government has made huge investments in construction of new highways, roads, bridges, tunnels and laying railway lines.
“Schemes were implemented to link the far flung areas with the mainland. The construction of Mughal road which connects Rajouri and Poonch districts of Jammu region with Kashmir valley, the laying of tunnels on the highway connecting Kashmir with Ladakh region are a few examples,” she added.