Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday inaugurated the country’s longest road tunnel that links Kashmir Valley with Jammu by an all-weather route and reduces the distance by 31 km.
The 9-km long ‘Chenani–Nashri Tunnel’, built at the cost of Rs 2,500 crore, was dedicated to the nation by the prime minister in Chenani in presence of Jammu and Kashmir Governor N N Vohra and Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti.
After the inauguration, Modi, along with Vohra and Mehbooba, travelled in an open jeep through the tunnel for some distance.
The prime minister, the governor and the chief minister then posed for a photograph with the engineers who were involved in construction of the tunnel.
The tunnel, bypassing snow-bound upper reaches, will reduce the journey time by two hours and provide a safe, all-weather route to commuters travelling from Jammu and Udhampur to Ramban, Banihal and Srinagar.
The estimated value of daily fuel savings will be to the tune of Rs 27 lakh, according to the PMO.
The tunnel is equipped with world-class security systems, and is expected to boost tourism and economic activities in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
The key features of the tunnel are that it is a single-tube bi-directional tunnel, with a 9.35-metre carriageway, and a vertical clearance of 5 metres.
There is also a parallel escape tunnel, with ‘Cross Passages’ connecting to the main tunnel at intervals of 300 metres.
It also has smart features such as an Integrated Traffic Control System; Surveillance, Ventilation and Broadcast Systems; Fire Fighting System; and SOS call-boxes at every 150 metres.
Speaking at a public meeting in Udhampur after inauguration, the prime minister said ‘40 years of bloodshed’ has not benefitted anyone and that the ‘misguided youth of Kashmir’ should choose tourism over terrorism to ensure the state’s development and well-being.
He again invoked former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s slogan of ‘Kashmiriyat, Jamhooriyat, Insaniyat (Kashmirism, democracy and humanity)’ and said this ‘prime motto’ will be used for taking the state to new heights of development and ‘no obstacle can stop us’.
Modi used the occasion to tell the stone-pelters of the valley that stones can be used for better purposes -- building infrastructure.
He told the Kashmiri youth that if they ignore the ‘invaluable tradition of sufi culture’, they would ‘lose the present and put your future into darkness’.
In a veiled manner, the prime minister also hit out at the rulers of Pakistan who are eyeing Kashmir, saying ‘they can’t even take care of themselves’.
He said his government was committed to ensure fast-paced development of Jammu and Kashmir, which would also tell the people living under ‘occupation’ in the other parts of the state how they are being destroyed.
Modi promised to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the development of Jammu and Kashmir and sought the cooperation of the people in this regard.
“I want to tell the misguided youth of Kashmir valley, realise the power of a stone. On one hand, there are some misguided youth who pelt stones, on the other hand, there are youth from the same Kashmir who carve stones to build infrastructure,” he said.
The message was clearly for the youth who are indulge in stone-pelting in the Kashmir valley and thus risk their lives.
“I want to tell the Kashmiri youth, there are two paths in front of you which can determine your future -- one is tourism, the other is terrorism,” he said.
“Over last 40 years, there has been lot of bloodshed. My own Valley has been blood soaked, my Kashmir's beloved youth, my Hindustan’s beloved youth. Nobody has benefitted from this bloodshed,” the prime minister emphasised.
He said if the people of Kashmir had devoted the same 40 years to development of tourism, the valley would have been blessed with tourism of world class.
Meanwhile, normal life was affected in Kashmir Valley due to strike called by separatist groups against Modi’s visit to the state for inauguration of the tunnel.
Most of the shops, business establishments and fuel stations were shut in Srinagar -- the summer capital of the state, officials said.
However, they said, the weekly flea market, locally known as Sunday market, was open as many vendors had set up their stalls along TRC Chowk-Batamaloo axis through Lal Chowk.
The officials said most of the public transport was off the roads, while private cars, cabs and auto-rickshaws were seen plying normally in many areas of the city.
Similar reports were received from other district headquarters of the Valley, they said.
The officials said security forces have been deployed in strength at sensitive places across the Valley to maintain law and order.
Asking people to observe a general strike, the separatists -- chairmen of rival factions of Hurriyat Conference, Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, and Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front chief Mohammad Yasin Malik -- in a joint statement on Thursday had said ‘all rhetoric about development or construction of tunnels and roads are futile and will not succeed in luring us’.
They said the prime minister was visiting the state at a time when situation was ‘extremely gloomy’.
‘Calling or observing a shutdown does not meet the demands of the situation but there is no other option left by the authorities. We do not nourish any animosity with the Indian prime minister, but it is frightening and painful that instead of taking notice of genocide in the state, he is awarding and rewarding assassins,’ they said.
The separatists said Kashmir is a ‘political issue and not a problem related to governance, economic packages, incentives or a law and order’.