Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Good News, Twice Over

Line of Commerce is functional and so is the rail traffic

Kashmir all set for cross-LoC trade

Srinagar: History is all set to repeat itself on Tuesday, as the Lorries containing 21 exchange items from the divided parts of Kashmir will pass through the Kaman Post in North Kashmir’s Uri on Tuesday morning.

The lorries carrying the consignments from this part of Kashmir to Pakistan administered Kashmir (PaK) will unload the consignments at the Chakoti, while the lorries coming from the other side of Kashmir will unload the consignments at Salamabad trade facilitation centre.

After unloading the consignments, the Lorries will return to their side of LoC.

Last week, state authorities carried out a successful trial run on the newly laid bridge at the Kaman post on the line of control.

The decision of opening the trade routes between the two parts of Kashmir was announced by the Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New York last month. The two presidents had announced that the LoC trade will commence on Srinagar-Muzaffarabad and the Poonch-Rawlakot routes from Oct 21

A total of 21 items each way have been approved by Joint Working Group of India and Pakistan for import and export between the two divided parts of Kashmir.

As per the agreement reached between India and Pakistan, the truck service will ply twice a week for both sides of the LoC through Srinagar- Muzaffarabad and Rawlakot-Poonch routes.

On Monday, President of Kashmir chamber of commerce and industries, Dr Mubeen Shah symbolically flagged off a truck outside the Chamber office carrying consignments from this side of Kashmir to the other side. Rest of the trucks laden with fruits started their journey towards Salamabad from North Kashmir’s Sopore and Shopian district of South Kashmir.

“At this point of time money is not a consideration. We want the trade to start,” Shah told this newspaper while flagging off the truck.

“Eleven trucks carrying fresh fruit, spices, honey, pulses and dry fruits will cross the LoC from this part of Kashmir on Tuesday morning,” he added.

Shah said, as a good will gesture both the sides will exchange the trade items free of cost.

The items that will be received from the other side of Kashmir include basmati rice, dates, salt, carpets and rugs, medicinal herbs, foam mattresses and cushions, wall hangings and Peshawari leather slippers and more.

The demand for opening the traditional trade routes connecting Jammu Kashmir with rest of the world gained momentum after the right wing Hindu parties’ enforced economic blockade of valley during the Amarnath Land transfer row.

The Pro-freedom parties actively campaigned for the restoration of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad trade routes and staged massive rallies in Srinagar and other districts of the valley.

Senior Pro-freedom leader, Sheikh Abdul Aziz and four others were killed in North Kashmir’s Tchahal area while leading “Muzaffarabad Chalo March” called by the coordination committee comprising fruit growers, hoteliers, trade unions, social, religious and political parties on August 11.

The killing of Aziz and others triggered massive anti-India protests, prompting the authorities to clamp down curfew in the entire valley.

Secretary, industries and commerce and the nodal officer for Cross LoC trade, Pawan Kotwal told this newspaper on Monday evening that 12 trucks carrying goods have reached the Salamabad, while three trucks carrying goods have reached Chakan-da-Bagh on the Poonch-Rawlakot road.

“The trucks will be flagged off by the Governor N N Vohra at 10:20 morning tomorrow at Kaman Post,” Kotwal said.

“The trucks from Chakan-da-Bagh to the other side will be flagged off by the advisor to the governor H H Tayabji,” he added

Kashmir Train: A link for J & K prosperity

Srinagar: With a view to provide an alternative and reliable transportation system to the State of Jammu & Kashmir, a 345 km. long railway line linking the Kashmir Valley with the Indian Railways network was proposed to be built. Considering the magnitude of this project, this was declared a National Project.

This is the biggest project to be undertaken by the Railways since independence. This mountain railway runs through the Himalayas and is called the Jammu-Udhampur-Katra-Qazigund-Baramulla link (JUSBRL). It passes through the young Himalayas, tectonic thrusts and faults.

This is also the only mountain railway in India to be built on Broad Gauge, which will enable instant connectivity with the remaining Indian Railway network once the construction of this project is completed.

The railway line from Jammu to Udhampur was completed and dedicated to the nation by the Prime Minister in April 2005. This section is now called Leg O.

Of the remaining portion i.e. the Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla Rail Link (USBRL) Project the Udhampur to Katra section is Leg-1, Katra-Quazigund section is Leg –2 and Quazigund to Baramulla section is Leg-3 for the execution of construction activities.

This project is perhaps the most difficult new railway line project undertaken on Indian subcontinent. The terrain passes through young Himalayas, which are full of geological surprises and numerous problems. Construction activities are in progress on Udhampur-Katra (Leg 1), Katra-Quazigund (Leg 2) and Quazigund-Srinagar-Baramulla (Leg 3) sections of the project simultaneously. Katra-Quazigund leg is the most difficult stretch of this project. In this leg Salal to Quazigund stretch lies in the territory where virtually no habitation, road or tracking path existed. In Katra-Quazigund a significant part of the project lies in tunnels, with the longest being about 10.96 km. In addition to tunnels, there will be several bridges. The tallest bridge is about 359 m above bed level and is over 1.3 km in length over river Chenab. The project is a challenge to the engineers of India in general and to the Railway Engineers in particular.

Jammu-Udhampur Rail Link Project (53 km)

Jammu-Udhampur section is in the sub-mountainous region. It is 53 km long and has 10 km length of tunnels, 36 major bridges and 122 minor bridges. This stretch has already been completed and commissioned in April 2005. The completion cost of this stretch is Rs. 522 crore.

Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla Rail Link (USBRL) Project (202 km)

Leg-1 – Udhampur-Katra section is 25 km long and involves about 10.9 km of tunneling. Nine major bridges, 29 minor bridges and 10 ROB/RUBs, in addition to about 38.86 lac cum of earthwork. The approximate cost of this stretch is Rs. 640 cr. The tallest bridge in this section is 90 m high (Br. No. 20) and the longest tunnel is 3.15 km long.

Leg-2 – Katra-Quazigund (148 km) – This leg is the toughest sector, ever been constructed on the Indian Railways. It is full of tunnels and bridges/viaducts. The terrain in this region is full of poor geology and faults. Tunneling and bridging is a challenge greater than that met on Jammu-Udhampur or Udhampur-Katra sections and once completed, it will be a matter of pride for the engineers of Indian Railways. On this section a bridge is being constructed across river Chenab which will have an arched span of 465 m and a total length of the bridge is around 1.3 km. This will be about 359 m above the bed level of the river. While the arched span is world. The stretch between river Chenab and Banihal is through a virgin territory and requires construction of approximately 300 km of access roads of which about 110 km has already been constructed. At Quazigund end of this stretch, the longest tunnel on Indian Railways is being constructed (Pir Panjal Tunnel). This tunnel is 10.95 km long and will pierce through the Pir Panjal range below the snow line.

Leg 3-Quazigund-Baramulla (119 km) -This section falls in the Kashmir Valley, which is a natural bowl, surrounded by the mountain ranges. Though there are no tunnels, heavy bridging is required across rivers, canals and roads. The DEMU coaches which will run on the section have been transported to the valley by employing a very innovative concept by moving these coaches by road, using specially modified road trailers. All 23 coaches have already reached the valley. There will be 64 major bridges and 640 minor bridges in this section.

The stations that lie in this route are Sadura, Anantnag, Bijbehera, Panjgam, Awantipora, Kakpora, Pampore, Srinagar, Badgam, Rajwainsher, Pattan, Hamare and Sopore.

Public conveniences such as toilets, tap water and/or water booths and benches have been provided at all stations along with platform shelters. Once opened for traffic, this section will have a maximum permissible speed limit of 100 kmph. Trains will run from Anantnag Srinagar-Rajwainsher, covering a distance of nearly 66 kms. While the remaining portion of this section will be completed in this year itself.

Spin-Offs This railway line will strengthen the available transport facilities of the State of J & K and provide an all-weather means of transport in an area which is snow bound for a significant part of the year. Thus, this project will bring boost to the development and economy of the State. As a result of this project, employment has got generated for the local people, which will lead to development and prosperity. Upto September 2008 Northern Railway has issued appointment letters to 137 land losers of which 120 people have joined.

Since the railway line is being constructed in a totally virgin terrain in many locations, there are no access roads to the work sites. The Railway has to construct about 300 km of such roads out of which about 110 km of roads have been constructed so far. These roads are not only enabling, reaching the work sites but are also connecting several villages which were hitherto connected only by sheep paths and foot trails. This is proving beneficial for the children going to school, for ailing people taken to hospitals and local produce finding its way to better markets. Along these roads new shops/other commercial establishments are coming up to meet with the regular needs of the persons working on the project. Not only this, local bus services has started at some places to connect far flung villages. These are such villages, where people had not even seen a vehicle earlier. These roads will be handed over to the State Government after construction for regular usage and maintenance.

The eight-coach DEMU would run twice a day on either side. Each coach would carry 90 passengers. The engine has been provided with snow cutter system and the temperature in the coaches can be maintained upto 20 0 during the winter season. The all- weather train is evoking good response from the people in the valley.

(Etalaat News Service)

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