K N Pandita
Recently an article appeared in the Daily Excelsior in which the author lamented that we were not respectful of our heritage. The writer was speaking in the context of the first railway station of Jammu which came into existence when under the orders of Maharaja Pratap Singh the railway line was extended from Suchetgarh to Jammu, a distance of 17 miles in 1890. The then railway station where the train terminated was somewhere about the present Bikram Chowk, on the other side of River Tawi.
The story of extending the railway line from Suchetgarh to Jammu in1890 is already documented. We are also told that Maharaja Pratap Singh wanted rail connectivity to be extended from Jammu to Srinagar. For this purpose, he had ordered the appointment of survey teams also and two links were under consideration of which one was finally rejected. This not too over-imposing an event at least shows that the Dogras rulers were not that evil and despotic as has was projected by the so-called nationalists fighting for a popular rule.
After the incursion of Pakistan through their tribal proxy in October 1947, just two months and eight-day after the declaration of independence and partition of India, fighting between India and Pakistan broke out. Rail link between Sialkot and Jammu broke and in due course of time, the railway station at the Bikram Chowk site got neglected and finally disappeared for no useful purpose.
I believe that a thankful and sensible nation should always show due respect to the rich inheritance it has. The railway station built under the orders of Maharaja Pratap Singh was a work of public utility. It deserves to be given its due. There is no second thought about that. After all, our younger generation has to get acquainted with the history of our nation and our state.
But, what is more, important and urgent is to take into consideration what is the condition of the new railway station which was built in 1972 when Mir Qasim was the Chief Minister of the State. On December 1 1972 the Srinagar Express (later Jhelum Express) departed from New Delhi with Om Mehta, the then MoS for Transport and Muhammad Shafi Qureshi, the then Deputy Minister for Railways, arrived at Jammu Tawi Station on December 2, 1972. A gala function was held at the Jammu railway station under the guidance of Abdul Ghani Lone, the J&K Minister for Tourism.
It was a historic day for the state. The railway station wore a festive look. Somewhere deep in the mind of the political leaders and railway engineers lay the idea that Jammu Tawi station should not be the terminating point of the railway line and that it should be extended to Kashmir, a distance of about 236 kilometres. In 1981, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi laid the foundation stone of extension of the Jammu railway line to Udhampur. Katra was the next destination and perhaps the most significant one of the entire Jammu-Baramulla rail project. The work on Katra -Banihal link is going on and is likely to be completed next year. The railway will pass through the highest railway bridge in Asia over the River Chenab ahead of Riasi.
This narrative speaks of many things: (a) it reflects the determination of the Indian state to develop J&K, a mountainous region despite so many physical and technical hurdles. (b) It reflects the Government of India’s resolve to secure and defend the crucial and strategic border with two hostile neighbours, Pakistan and China, and (c) to bring about an economic revolution in the Himalayan region by providing a major lifeline of connectivity right up to the Indo-China border in Ladakh.
Keeping this in view, it should not be difficult to envisage the importance of Jammu railway station as the Centerport of the mineral-rich and strategically crucial Himalayan ranges. Jammu has a vast hinterland of the twin districts of Rajouri and Poonch which are also border districts and strategically important from a security point of view. Even Kathua and Reasi, too, are on the security map of the defence authorities.
But what makes Jammu Tawi station the most important railway station for the Northern Railways is that it is the main terminus for pilgrim tourism to Mata Vaishno Devi shrine in Katra. According to one estimate, 1.5 crore pilgrims visit the shrine annually. This number will increase rapidly because Mata Vaishno Devi is in the true sense of the word both a place of pilgrimage and a tourist site in Trikuta Hills, the branch of Shivalik. Nearly four dozen trains arrive or leave Jammu station daily. The pilgrim tourists are the largest source of economy of Jammu for the labourers, shopkeepers, transporters, hoteliers etc. No doubt Katra town has its share of development, thanks to the Mata Vaishno Devi Development Board and even it is connected with a rail link. But Jammu railway station has its special significance.
No doubt some improvement has been made by the Northern Railways in providing facilities to the thousands of passengers arriving or departing from Jammu every day and night. But the harsh reality is that the existing Jammu Tawi railway station cannot cope with the burden it is required to carry either in terms of handling the huge number of passengers or in terms of quality of facilities passengers deserve. At present, the Jammu railway station appears an uncared for and unattended public facility that runs by sheer momentum and not by strict directions of an authority. Some major improvements must be taken in hand on a war footing. The foremost is that the bus stand in front of the station should be removed to some other place and the entire area has to be developed partly as a beautiful park with fountains and partly passenger guest houses of modern style have to be built. Secondly, the passage from the main road to the railway station should be widened and made at least 100 feet wide so that there is no clogging of vehicles and crowding of passengers. Mind you along with this narrow entry there are more beggars, pickpockets, chain snatchers and small crime aberrant than passengers. It is obnoxious to the pleasure of pilgrim tourism. The platforms are narrow and do not cope with the rush. Thousands of passengers are seen resting, sleeping or squatting on the platform floor roughly cemented and badly lighted. The condition of urinals for both males and females is horrible. There is no restaurant worth the name either by the platform or in its vicinity where a good meal would be available. The hawkers, redi wallas and curio sellers swarm like locusts making it almost impossible to move unscathed.
Jammu railway station has the potential to become the most scenic station in the country as it is situated a little. There is a total absence of plantation and green turf around the station. The three-wheelers and taxi drivers fleece the passengers because there is no control of the traffic police on charges they demand. They are not governed by any rule or system that is justifiable.
The fanfare with which this railway station was inaugurated becomes a farce when compared to what a horrible shape it has taken today. We would suggest the railway authorities to constitute a Jammu Railway Station Restructuring Committee with the assignment of preparing a blueprint for upgrading and modernizing the station and making it a model station. Instead of lamenting about the non-existing railway station around Bikram Chowk we should talk of the railway station which is serving the need of millions of people every week.
K N Pandita