Kashmir set to enter a new era of connectivity following Shah-Gadkari's visits
By Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
New Delhi, Nov 22: Close on the heels of over 30 Central Ministers' visits to Jammu and Kashmir in the last two months, the Union Territory is getting a significant developmental boost from the Government of India. Union Home Minister Amit Shah's first four-day-long tour after the erstwhile State's historic transformation in August 2019, coupled with the Union Minister for Road Transport & Highways Nitin Gadkari's visit, Jammu and Kashmir are getting four new highways and a light rail urban transit system for the capital cities of Srinagar and Jammu.
Early this week, Gadkari approved works on major national highways and roads worth about Rs 3,900 crore in the UTs of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh and the neighbouring State of Punjab including the construction of a new strategically important highway from Akhnoor to Poonch.
"Rehabilitation and up-gradation work to 2-Lane with paved shoulder under 13 TF on Akhnoor-Poonch Road (NH-144A) under project Sampark (BRO) on EPC mode (Pkg-V) has been approved with a budget of Rs 441 crore in the UT of Jammu and Kashmir", Gadkari announced on Twitter.
Gadkari also announced approval to construction work of 4/6-Lane access-controlled expressway from junction with Pathankot-Gurdaspur Road (NH-54 near Balsua to junction with Hiranagar Road near village Gurha Baildaran) of Delhi-Amritsar-Katra Expressway on HAM mode under Bharatmala Pariyojana (Phase-II, Pkg-XIV) with a budget of Rs 3,044 crore in Punjab Jammu and Kashmir.
For Ladakh, Gadkari approved construction of three 2-lane realignments including Drass, Kharboo and Kargil between Pandrass-Pashkyum on Zojila-Kargil-Leh road (National Highway-I) under Project Vijayak (Border Roads Organization) in Engineering Procurement and Construction (EPC) mode with the Central funding worth Rs 426.14 crore.
The three works approved at the cost of over Rs 3,900 crore today give a major boost to development of highways and road infrastructure network in J&K and Ladakh, besides Punjab. Delhi-Amritsar-Katra Expressway in particular will sharply reduce travel time and distance between New Delhi and Jammu. Passing through Delhi, Haryana, Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir, it will be substantially beneficial for travellers-particularly tourists, pilgrims, students, farmers and traders.
Construction of Akhnoor-Poonch highway will remarkably cut short distance as well as travel time between Jammu and Poonch through the border belt of Jammu, Rajouri and Poonch districts. Construction of a wide road from Jammu to Akhnoor is already in progress. The highway will hugely benefit the population in Rajouri and Poonch districts besides the security forces. Ladakh and the Jammu and Kashmir UT's Rajouri and Poonch districts are among the strategically critical territories.
During his visit to J&K in October, Gadkari made an inspection of the two major tunnels under construction in Zojila area on the Srinagar-Leh highway which will, for the first time in history, provide a 24x7x365 all-weather connectivity between Leh, Kargil, Srinagar and Jammu.
Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha on Friday expressed his gratitude to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Gadkari for sanctioning Rs 441 crore for revamp and upgradation of the two-lane Akhnoor-Poonch road, which comes under the National Highways - 144A.
According to authoritative sources, Gadkari is understood to announce four more national highways in Jammu and Kashmir in a few days. All the four will be in Jammu division. These include widening and transformation into a highway of the traditional Jammu-Sialkot Road up to the International Border at Suchetgarh. In addition to boosting tourism, it would come as a major relief for the Army and BSF guarding the IB.
Part of the Union Highway Ministry's 'Baratmala' project, this highway of national importance would start from the Tawi bridge in Jammu and pass through Jammu airport, Miran Sahib and RS Pura, parallel to the pre-Partition railway track between Jammu and Lahore through Sialkot.
The BSF have lately started a 'Beating of the Retreat' on daily basis on the pattern of the famous paramilitary exercise between the Indian and the Pakistani border guards at Wagah. From the Pakistani side, unlike at Wagah, Rangers have not joined the drill so far at Suchetgarh.
Yet another part of 'Bharatmala' project, a national highway would be developed between Dayalachak and Basohli through Challan, Billawar and Manpur. It will boost road connectivity in Kathua district linking Hiranagar, Billawar and Basohli. The Centre would shortly create a tourist circuit through Billawar, Basohli and Bani in Kathua district.
Two more roads being declared as the national highways are Kathua-Basohli-Bani-Bhaderwah-Doda (connecting National Highway-44 with National Highway-244) and Doda-Bhaderwah-Chamba (Himachal Pradesh) connecting National Highway-154 A with National Highway 244. Kathua-Basohli-Bani-Bhaderwah-Doda highway will give a major boost to road connectivity to hilly areas of Kathua and Doda districts while Doda-Bhaderwah-Chamba highway could become a major road link between Jammu and Himachal Pradesh.
Knowledgeable sources said that the estimated cost of the proposed four new national highways in Jammu was currently being worked out. According to these sources. The Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs was currently giving final touches to an ambitious Light Urban Rail Transit project, called 'Metrolite', for Srinagar. Its estimated expenditure has been worked out at Rs 4,892 crore. The UT's winter capital of Jammu would also get a modern metro or Metrolite project.
Metrolite is a light rail urban transit system planned in India for cities with lower ridership projection and as a feeder system for the existing metro systems. It will cater to lower passenger capacity at a reduced cost than a metro line. It will have dedicated tracks, separated from the road. Existing metro in Delhi and some other major cities is of high capacity which is required for bigger cities with very high ridership and Peak Hour Peak Direction Traffic (PHPDT). In addition to less capital cost, the operation and maintenance cost of Metrolite would also be less making the system more viable.
Metrolite in Srinagar, according to sources, is expected to be completed in four years. It would have 24 stations on the two corridors. One corridor of 12.5 km will connect Indira Nagar to HMT and another of the same length would be laid from Iqbal Park to Osmanabad.
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