*Banihal rail tunnel to be used for traffic
JAMMU, Feb 3: Union Minister for Surface Transport Nitin Gadkari today announced series of developmental projects for Jammu and Kashmir including additional Rs 1000 crores under Central Road Fund (CRF) and approved construction of two vital tunnels on Mughal Road and Kishtwar-Anantnag roads which will make them all weather roads.
Gadkari announced that Chenani-Nashri tunnel would be completed by the end of this month and it would be thrown open for all kind of transport any time in March while work on Zojila tunnel and two Ring Road for Jammu and Srinagar would start this year. He also accorded the status of National Highway to Lakhanpur-Basohli-Bani-Doda road as National Highway directed the Chairman NHAI for preparation of DPR before launching work on the new highway.
The significant decisions were announced by Gadkari, a veteran BJP leader, at a high level meeting with Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, which was attended among others by Advisor to Chief Minister Prof Amitabh Mattoo, Principal Secretary to Chief Minister, BB Vyas, Commissioner/Secretary Works, Rohit Kansal and Commissioner/Secretary, Public Health Engineering, Sanjeev Verma.
Top brass of Surface Transport Ministry and Water Resources Ministry including Secretaries of the two Ministers, Chairman, National Highway Authority of India, Secretary, Shipping Corporation of India among others attended the meeting that lasted an hour from 5 pm to 6 pm in the office of Gadkari at New Delhi.
Official sources told the Excelsior that Mehbooba also called on Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu and demanded that Qazigund-Banihal railway tunnel should be used for vehicular movement during hostile weather conditions including snowfall when the Jammu-Srinagar highway gets closed between Banihal and Qazigund.
Prabhu agreed to the suggestion of using the railway tunnel for traffic during inclement weather and directed the officials of his Ministry to work out modalities as the Railway tunnel has an inbuilt parallel road stretch.
Sources said it was a virtual bonanza for Jammu and Kashmir in the form of additional Rs 1000 crores worth funds under the CRF for current financial year, which would boost road network infrastructure in the State and give pace to developmental works apart from resulting into completion of works, which had been stalled for want of funds.
The demand for CRF funds had been projected by the Chief Minister earlier also and was under active consideration of the Surface Transport Ministry. The deal was finally clicked at the high level meeting with Gadkari approving additional Rs 1000 crores to J&K under the CRF this year with the assurance that the funds would be released immediately to help the State boost its road and infrastructure development network.
Sources said the Union Road Transport Minister approved construction of two tunnels—one at Mughal Road, which connected Rajouri and Poonch districts of Jammu region with Shopian in Kashmir and another at Kishtwar-Anantnag road (named Singhpora-Vailoo tunnel), which will link erstwhile Doda district with Anantnag in the Kashmir valley.
These two roads are operational only during fair weather conditions but with the construction of tunnels, they will be converted into all weather roads and connect the Kashmir Valley from three places in Jammu region—the existing Jammu-Srinagar National Highway, Mughal Road and Kishtwar-Anantnag road.
Sources said the Union Surface Transport Minister directed the Secretary Surface Transport Ministry to get in touch with Jammu and Kashmir Government officials, prepare Detailed Project Reports (DPRs) of the two tunnels immediately and send them for approval before start of the work.
With working season limited on the two roads, the Government wants the work on two tunnels to start this summer.
Sources said the Surface Transport Ministry has approved demand of Jammu and Kashmir Government for construction of another National Highway in the State from Lakhanpur to Doda via Basohli and Bani, which will create an alternate road network to erstwhile Doda district. Gadkari has asked the NHAI chairman to prepare DPRs of the highway before starting work on the project.
Sources said Gadkari announced in the meeting that 9-kilometers Chenani-Nashri tunnel construction at a cost of over Rs 2500 crores would be completed by the end of this month and thrown open for the transport in the month of March.
The tunnel will shorten distance on Jammu-Srinagar National Highway comprehensively and facilitate traffic movement even during snowfall at Patnitop. It will also reduce traffic congestion of Chenani-Nashri stretch.
Sources said Gadkari told the Jammu and Kashmir delegation that work on Zojila tunnel near Kargil will start this year. The tunnel is strategically also very significant for the Government as it would provide all weather road connectivity to Kargil and Leh districts of Ladakh region. Work on Zojila tunnel, proposed at a whopping cost of about Rs 10,000 crores, has already been delayed.
He also assured that work on two Ring Roads, proposed for twin capital cities of Jammu and Srinagar, will also be launched this year.
The Ring Roads would be fully funded by the Union Surface Transport Ministry.
Gadkari assured the Chief Minister that work on Qazigund-Khanabal stretch of Jammu-Srinagar National Highway will be completed this year.
An official handout said: the Chief Minister raised the issue of development and upgradation of a number of other roads including Budhal-Shopian, Kupwara-Bungus, Srinagar-Bandipora, Tral-Pahalgam, Panikhar-Pahalgam and other tunnels including Sadhna, Razdan and Chatergalla tunnels and sought expediting the works.
The meeting also reviewed the status of work on Jammu-Srinagar national highway. While the Jammu-Udhampur stretch of road is complete, work on the 66 Kilometre Qazigund-Srinagar highway is likely to be completed this year.
Similarly, the DPR for Poonch-Uri road connecting Pir Panchal with Kashmir valley is being prepared and work would commence after the same is approved.
The Chief Minister, however, expressed concern over the slow pace of work on the widening of Ramban-Banihal stretch of National Highway and sought expediting the same.
Mehbooba also raised the issue of slow pace of dredging in river Jhelum and sought active support from the Union Ministry in this regard.
Gadkari directed that a coordinated approach be adopted by the Ministries of Water Resources, Transport and Shipping in consultation with the State Government to look into the issue and sort out things at the earlier.
Mehbooba sought that the river Jhelum be made navigable for inland water transportation. She was informed that a study commissioned in this regard will be completed by April this year and necessary steps will be taken to make the river amenable for inland water transportation.