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Tuesday, 28 October, 2008

Srinagar-Gumri road being closed from Friday,

SRINAGAR, Oct 22: With the closure of Sonmarg-Gumri road from Friday, traffic movement on the 434-km-long Srinagar-Leh will remain suspended for six winter months.
However, traffic from Drass, the second coldest place in the world after Siberia to Kargil and Leh will continue to ply during winter months, depending upon the weather conditions.
Meanwhile, the authorities claimed to have stocked sufficient quantity of essential commodities in Leh and Kargil and other far flung remote areas which get cut off during the winter months.
A spokesman of the Beacon Project, responsible for the maintainance of the highway, life line to entire Ladakh region, said due to erratic weather conditions, early snowfall, extreme cold temperature and likely icing on the road surface especially on Zojila Pass, it has beeen decided to close Srinagar-Sonamarg-Gumri for all vehicular traffic from October 31.
He said all resources deployed at various locations on Srinagar-Sonamarg-Gumri road will be withdrawn accordingly.
Chief Engineer, Project Beacon has further said following the closure of the road, it will not be possible to provide any assistance to passengers who get trapped on the highway after Friday.
He has requested public and tourist as well as transporters not to ply their vehicles beyond Gagangir on Srinagar-Sonamarg-Gumri road after the closure of Leh highway.
It will not be possible for project beacon to evacuate any person or vehicle trapped on the highway,he said

Chhewang, Namgayal LUTF; Akhoon, Khan NC nominees

JAMMU, Oct 27: The battle of ballot today hot up in Ladakh region and Poonch district of Jammu region, going to polls in first phase of polling on November 17 with top Buddhist leader Thupstan Chhewang filing his nomination from Leh as Leh Union Territory Front (LUTF) candidate and NC candidates Qamar Ali Akhoon, former Minister and ex-Chairman, Leh Autonomous Hill Development Council, Kargil joining fray from Kargil and sitting Councilor Feroz Khan from Zanskar. A ‘tacit understanding’ between LUTF and NC appeared to be on the cards for four Assembly segments of Leh and Kargil districts, the hints for which were dropped by leaders of both the parties.
In Poonch district, all three NC MLAs in previous Assembly, Aijaz Jan (Poonch), Mushtaq Bukhari (Surankot) and Javed Rana (Mendhar) obtained papers from Returning Officers today for filing their nomination papers while Imtiyaz Banday, Rafiq Khan and Dr Mushtaq Bukhari securing papers as PDP candidates from Poonch, Mendhar and Surankot respectively. The PDP has denied mandate to veteran political leader, Yashpal Sharma from Poonch, who had joined the party after contesting December 2007 by-election from Poonch as an Independent candidate and losing to Mr Jan. Expressing surprise over PDP’s decision, Mr Sharma told the Excelsior that he would talk to his people and take a decision within a couple of days whether to contest the election again as an Independent or not.
Nissar Ahmed, a former Minister in 1996 Farooq Abdullah regime and Choudhary Aslam, former PCC (I) chief have obtained papers as Congress nominees for Mendhar and Surankot respectively while Congress was said to be weighing options between Jehangir Mir, who had won by-election in last December and Bashir Naz, as a candidate from Poonch.
Dr Mushtaq Bukhari, who today took nomination form for Surankot Assembly segment, is cousin of two time MLA of NC and former Minister Syed Mushtaq Bukhari. Choudhary Aslam is sitting Rajya Sabha member but his term is scheduled to expire on November 25 along with all three other members from J&K to Upper House. In both 1996 and 2002 Assembly polls, Mr Bukhari had defeated Mr Aslam. Hamid Manhas (covering PDP), Mohd Sharief (BSP) and Haji Mohd Sadiq (BJP) have also taken nomination forms today for Surankot segment.
Besides Aijaz Jan (NC) and Imtiyaz Banday (PDP), other political leaders who today took nomination forms for Poonch Assembly segment, include Shah Mohd Tantray (PDF), who had contested December by-election as an Independent and secured good number of votes, Pardeep Sharma (BJP), Vipan Kandhari (BJP covering), Atika Jan (NC covering), Haji Rashid (Lok Janshakti Party), Mohd Yunus Chouhan and Mohd Abbas Khan (Independents).
In Mendhar, an Independent Nazir Hussain has also taken the nomination form. Nissar Ahmed, who took the form as Congress candidate, had won Mendhar seat in 1996 as a NC candidate and remained a Cabinet Minister in Farooq Abdullah Government. However, he was denied NC mandate in 2002 polls. Last time, Congress had fielded its district president Zafarullah from Mendhar. Rafiq Khan, who took the papers as PDP nominee, is also a former Minister. Nazir Hussain took the papers as an Independent candidate from Mendhar.
The PDP decision not to field veteran political leader Yashpal Sharma from Poonch has surprised political circles. Mr Sharma despite having lost last three successive Assembly elections from Poonch with a narrow margin (first as Janata Dal candidate, second as Congress and third one as an Independent) commanded a considerable influence among voters of both the communities.
Mr Sharma said he had been promised PDP mandate from Poonch when he had joined PDP early this year after losing December by-poll as an Independent candidate. "I don’t know what prompted the PDP leadership to change their decision", he said, adding he would talk to his well-wishers and take a decision within a couple of days on whether to contest the election again as an Independent candidate or explore other options.
Sources said the candidates, who today secured nomination forms in three segments of Poonch districts, are expected to file their papers after Diwali. October 31 is last date for filing of nomination papers. The Congress is also expected to name its candidate for Poonch anytime now.
Meanwhile, political scenario has also hot up in Leh and Kargil districts with prominent LUTF leader and Lok Sabha member from Ladakh, Thupstan Chhewang today filing nomination papers from Leh segment in the presence of a large number of supporters.
In another important development, the LUTF has fielded Tsetan Namgayal from Nobra Assembly constituency. He will submit his nomination papers on Wednesday. Mr Namgayal had served as a Minister in 1996 Farooq Abdullah led Government.
The NC has fielded Qamar Ali Akhoon, a former Minister and ex-chairman LAHDC, Kargil from Kargil Assembly segment and Feroz Khan, a sitting Councilor from Silmoo, who had won the Council poll uncontested from Zanskar constituency. Feroz Khan is son of retired DIG of police, Ghulam Hassan Khan.
Surprisingly, the NC has not fielded any candidate from Leh and Nobra so far.
Mr Chhewang told the Excelsior that the LUTF has not much stakes in Kargil and it was likely to support NC candidate Qamar Ali Akhoon. In Zanskar, he said, there could be a friendly contest with NC.
There were enough indications from the two parties—LUTF and NC— that LUTF would support NC nominee in Kargil and, in turn, NC would back LUTF nominees in Leh and Nobra. The two parties could have a friendly contest at Zanskar.
"We hope the NC won’t field its nominees in Leh and Nobra", Mr Chhewang said.
Though the Congress is yet to come up with its list for four segments of Leh and Kargil, the party has dropped that it would repeat its sitting MLAs. Leh and Nobra were won uncontested by Nawang Rigzin Jora and Sonam Wangchuk Narboo as LUTF nominees in 2002 but both of them had later sided with the coalition. Mr Jora remained a Cabinet Minister in the Government. Similarly, Haji Nissar Ali had won from Kargil as an Independent candidate but later joined the Congress and also became a Cabinet Minister. Independent Ghulam Raza had won from Zanskar in the by-election after the death of NC candidate Abdul Kabir Pathan. Mr Raza was supported by the coalition Government.
The BJP, which has some support base in Leh and Nobra, has not fielded any candidate in the two constituencies and there were indications from the party leadership that it could back the LUTF nominees. Out of four segments in Ladakh region, the BJP has named its candidate only from Kargil segment.
(Daily Excelsior, 28th October 2008)

Train to Kargil? Railways seek report from govt

The ambitious plan of the railways to link Kashmir with the rest of India may be in a limbo, it is now planning to connect the inaccessible Ladakh region, which shuts down during winter months, with Kullu-Manali in Himachal.

Initially, the central government had thought of rail connectivity between Kullu district and Leh, which is at 474 km from the Kuluu-Manali, but it is now thinking of connecting Kargil, another Ladakh district which is a further 230 km from Leh towards Kashmir, to this proposed route as well.

Kargil district commissioner Satesh Nehru told The Tribune that his office had been asked to submit a report on how beneficial rail connectivity could be for the district, the connectivity of which to the rest of country is worse than Leh, another Ladakh district which receives much less snow and has round-the-year air connectivity.

The railways had to factor in costs before they give the project green light, Nehru said, adding that the district would be immensely helped by the new route. "It's not only about its over one lakh population (and the Army has a massive presence here), it's strategically important too,''he said.

Poor connectivity is probably the single biggest complaint of localsagainst authorities and they say they are always made to play second fiddle to Leh.

Asgar Ali Karbalaie, Kargil's former chief executive councillor, who is chairman of the local development council and is given a cabinet-minister rank, says the project might be good for them but the central government should first try to make operational more feasible connectivity projects.

"The rail line is an ambitious plan which might or might not happen but what about long-pending proposal of blasting tunnels in Zojila, the Himalayan range that divides Kashmir valley and Ladakh and remains snowbound for close to six months cutting off the hilly region?" Karbalaie asked.

He said it was announced that commercial flights would start from Kargil from August 15 this year but the plan came stuck with the fall of Ghulam Nabi Azad government. Absence of connectivity means that the people in the Muslim-majority district are forced to live a pitiable life in winter months when parts of the district like Zanskar valley are disconnected with even the district headquarter.

Nehru admitted to these issues and said demands of constructing tunnels through Zojila or reviving old land routes with Kashmir were still at a nascent stage.

(Article from "The Tribune", Chandigarh, 28th oct. 2008)