02 April, Udhampur
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 Sunday and congratulated the youth of the state for the Chenani-Nashri tunnel that he inaugurated for better connectivity between the troubled Valley with the rest of India.
“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.
(Rupesh Dutta can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)