Integrate Kashmir with India via trains: Mufti

Srinagar: Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed told Indian Railway Minister Suresh Prabhakar Prabhu on Thursday that if India is firm on saying the state is the core of “Indian nationalism” then the country should make practical efforts to integrate it.
Mufti, who made these remarks at the launch of four new trains at Srinagar railway station, was referring to connecting Jammu and Kashmir with India via a railway line. “It was our dream to connect Kashmir with India through railway, and if it becomes a reality then it will be a turning point in the history of India,” Mufti said. He added that this connection would benefit traders, the tourism sector, boost employment and aid lower sections of society. He urged the Railway Minister to make all-out efforts to ensure the connection is completed soon.
The “dream” of connecting Kashmir to India via rail is old, but has remained unfulfilled so far. It was only in 2005 that former PM Manmohan Singh formally inaugurated the first phase of the 55-km Jammu –Udhampur, and then the 66-km stretch from Anantnag to Mazhama in 2008. In 2009, an 18 km link connecting Anantnag with Qazigund in south Kashmir became operational.
Mufti said improved rail connectivity would bring relief to people who have suffered from frequent breakdown of the Jammu-Srinagar highway, especially during winters. He urged the Railway Minister to give special attention to Kashmir railway projects as trains were the preferred mode of transport for lower sections of society in the Valley.
At present, about 30,000 people travel by train every day on the Banihal-Baramulla track. Work on the tough Katra-Banihal track, spanning around 111 km, is in progress and is expected to be completed by 2020. This stretch is full of tunnels, flyovers and under-bridges, and the arch bridge over the river Chenab between Kouri and Bakal is slated to be the tallest bridge of this type in the world.
With the launch of the new trains, the total number of train services in the Valley has gone up to 26. And, on his part, Suresh Prabhu said he would leave no stone unturned to get the Katra-Banihal line completed within the stipulated time. He promised that 12 more coaches would be added to existing trains within two months. “I not only want integration of Kashmir with India by railway, but by hearts and minds too. I will do whatever I can to make it possible,” Suresh said.
Deputy CM Nirmal Singh said the railway connection would play the same role in the development of the state as the introduction of trains did in India.