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Tuesday 28 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)

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