23th December 2018 was the happiest day for the people of border Districts of Poonch Rajouri when Railway Minister Piyush Goel gave approval to Jammu-Rajouri- Poonch Rail link by making a provision of Rs. 2370 Crores in the upcoming Railway budget to give this project final shape and start the work on ground.
He further said that this project will be completed in next three years and will connect Pir Panchal region of Jammu province with rest of country through rail link. This decision of Central Government has widely been welcomed by the people of this region.
Jammu-Poonch Rail project was initially conceived by the then Railway minister Mukal Rai of UPA Government in 2012 who had declared it as a national project. However, except the survey of the project, nothing was done by the then UPA Government on this project neither present NDA Government paid any attention towards this important project upto 2018. It was only after the declaration of Baramulla-Kupwara Rail link on 30th November 2018 when there was great resentment among the public of Jammu province in general and Poonch-Rajouri in particular, the Central Government agreed to the proposal.
As per the proposal of Railway ministry, this Rail link will pass through Akhnoor, Kaleeth, Dori, Dagar, Chowki Chowra, Bhambla, Sunderbani, Nowshera, Rajouri and ultimately Poonch town. The total Rail length shall be 234.12 kms. The survey on Jammu-Poonch railway line has already been completed and roots finalized. It will benefits large number of people of twin border Districts of Rajouri and Poonch.
Before independence, Poonch was a principality of local Dogra Rajas and it was well connected with motorable roads with rest of the country. It was linked with Rawalpindi (now in Pakistan) via Poonch-Aliabad-Haji Pir Pass-Uri-Muzaffarabad and Srinagar via Uri and Baramulla. There was also a Tanga route from Poonch to Sudnutti and Lachman Pattan bridge on river Jhelum. Beyond that there was a pacca road leading towards Lahore on one side and Rawalpindi on the other side. Similarly Poonch was connected with Jammu with 220 miles long road via Kotli, Mirpur, Jhangar and Rajouri via Jhangar. This principality was centrally located between Jammu, Srinagar, Rawalpindi and Jehlum city. Due to its locational advantages and proper connectivity Poonch city was a trade center and having a wholesale market near present Jama Masjid, where the traders of Punjab and Kashmir assembled and exchanged their goods. The locally available goods like Ghee, Sheep Skin, Wool, Honey, Wild Mashroom, Blankets, Pattu, Rajmash and Maize were exported to Rawlakote, Rawalpindi, Gujjar Khan and Jehlum city while Naswar, tea, Ghur, Cloth and salt was imported and sent to Kashmir and other remote areas. Therefore Poonch was a prosperous city and center of great hustle bustle due to connectivity.
Unfortunately during the turmoil of 1947, Poonch was cut off from all the historic routes and links. Uri -Poonch road was cut off by Pakistani raiders on 22nd November 1947, Poonch Kotli Mirpur road was captured by Pakistani forces on 28th November and Poonch-Rawlakote road was also cutoff by the raiders on 14th November 1947 when the withdrawal of state forces took place from Rawlakote. Therefore for about one year Poonch remained delinked from all land routes and besieged by the raiders and this besieged city was defended by Indian forces under the command of a brave and courageous Brigadier Pritam Singh in very odd circumstances. It was only after operation rescue launched by Indian forces under the command of Brigadier Yadav Nath Singh during October-November 1948 when the siege of Poonch town was got lifted. At that time no road link was available. Therefore initially a Kacha road was immediately constructed to link Poonch with Rajouri via Bimber Gali. Except this road Poonch area was surrounded from three sides. After 1965 war another road was constructed via Dera Ki Galli, Than, Kalakote, Reasi and Jammu. But there was no Pacca Road Rail link or air link.
In absence of proper connectivity and its location on the LOC a the people of Poonch were facing a number of problems. On one side it was under the radar of Pakistani forces from across the LOC to harass the public, on the other side, trade and commercial activities were stopped and avenues of employments were negligible. This scenario turned Poonch economically backward and more than 40 percent population went below the poverty line which continued for years together and most of the above problems arose due to non-availability of external and internal connectivity.
In the above context, and keeping in view the demand of the public of Poonch and Rajouri, the Railway Minister Piyush Goel announced the construction of rail link from Jammu to Poonch and also Communication Ministry sanctioned Rs. 5100 crores for widening of Jammu Poonch road link. The decision of rail link from Jammu to Poonch has been appreciated by the general public. A social activist Pardeep Khanna while welcoming the decision said that rail link will ease the mobility problem, reduce the journey and journey time, will boost commercial activities. This link will also be beneficial for defense forces. Educationist Molana Mohd Sayed told that rail link was a 70 years old dream of the people of Poonch which shall now be converted into a reality. Rail link shall generate employment avenues for educated youths. Professor Musarad Hussain Shah of Mendhar while appreciating the decision was of the opinion that rail link will also be beneficial for skilled and unskilled workers, will strengthen the economy of the area and will help in reducing the poverty from the people of remote and border areas.
The people of the area demand that work on ground maybe taken up immediately and project must be completed within three years period fixed by the railway ministry. Only then the benefit of the project shall percolate to public. The general public hopes that the rail link will open the door of prosperity, revive economy and restore the past glory of Poonch to some extent.