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September 28, 2008
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September 28, 2008

Page: 11/43

Home > 2008 Issues > September 28, 2008

Special Report

Kalka-Shimla heritage rail line
A Herculean Railway Project for Himachal Pradesh and Nation

By Amba Charan Vashishth

Prof. Dhumal lost no time to draw the attention of the Union Government towards the need for construction of this railway line vital for the State and more vital for defence of the country. He had initially proposed that the present meter gauge Pathankot-Jogindernagar railway line be made broad gauge and extended to Manali-Leh.

The perseverance displayed by Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister, Prof. Prem Kumar Dhumal and persistent prodding by him has finally paid dividends. The Government of India has ultimately seen reason and come round to give a go-ahead, in principle, to the Rs. 90,000 crore broad gauge railway line from Bhanupali-Bilaspur-Manali-Keylong-Leh. This will make the railway facilities reach right up to the India-Tibet border, hitherto a few hundred miles away.

China has already spread a network of railway and airstrips along the India-Tibet border adjoining the states of Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir. The Leh railway line will provide all-weather rail connection to these far-flung areas which otherwise remain cut off from the rest of the country for at least six months in a year when the 13050 feet high Rohtang Pass between Manali and Keylong is under so heavy snow that it is impossible for the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), which maintains the national highway, to keep it fit for vehicular traffic. This situation also hinders the supply of essential goods to our armed forces manning the Indo-Tibetan border in difficult terrain under inhospitable conditions. The tribal district of Lahaul & Spiti also remains cut off. The only link during the winter is the helicopter service which too gets disrupted because of inclement weather.

It was the realisation of this reality that immediately on taking over as the Chief Minister of the State for the second time on December 30 last, Prof. Dhumal lost no time to draw the attention of the Union Government towards the need for construction of this railway line vital for the State and more vital for defence of the country. He had initially proposed that the present meter gauge Pathankot-Jogindernagar railway line be made broad gauge and extended to Manali-Leh. He had argued that besides giving fillip to the tourism potential of the State, it will be strategically very useful in view of the defence needs of the country to transport supplies and defence equipment right up to the India-Tibet border. Initially, the Government of India rejected the proposal on the ground that it was not economically viable.

Prof. Dhumal did not give up so easily. He wrote back saying that this railway line will be the lifeline of not just of the people of the two States of Himachal and J&K but, above all, of the defence of the country throughout the year. He argued that when the defence of the country is at stake, economic viability and financial constraints have no meaning and we have to undertake such projects at whatever the cost.

Ultimately, in August 2008 the Government of India saw reason in Dhumal's logic and agreed to the Rs. 90,000 crore ambitious and prestigious railway project, in principle.

This railway line besides giving a much-needed boost to strengthen our vigil on the borders and cater to the requirements of defence on this volatile border, at a time when China has fortified its defences on the border, will at the same time altogether revolutionise railway facilities in this tourism and horticulture-rich State. It will also open up the tribal districts of Lahaul and Kinnaur for tourists. It will give a boost to adventure tourism in the State. Taking a cue from Chinese example, it is bound to push tourism and horticulture to new heights. According to reports, the expansion of railway facilities in Tibet has led to a spurt of 75 per cent in foreign visitors in just a few months and about 30 lakh foreign tourists have visited the area in just the last few months.

This will be the first major railway project in Himachal Pradesh since Independence. The two narrow gauge railway lines?the Kalka-Shimla world heritage line and Pathankot-Jogindernagar line?are the gift of our British rulers to this area a century back.

The only broad gauge railway line provided to HP after Independence has been the 85-km Nangal-Talwara railway line whose foundation stone was laid by the then Railway Minister, late Lalit Narain Mishra in 1973. The work is progressing at a nail's pace with just about 40 per cent of the work completed?34 kms of railway line laid in 34 years.

China has posed a direct threat to the country's security by laying 1142 kms of railway lines right up to our border with Tibet. It has thus strengthened its defences on the Indo-Tibetan border. It has also established a network of airstrips dotted near the line of control. China has ensured easy and quick mobilisation of its forces and defences on the border. We can only ignore this reality of Chinese mobilisation of its defence preparedness at our own peril.

Presently, the only means of communication to the border areas with Tibet are the Hindustan-Tibet road and the Manali-Keylong-Leh road or the helicopter service. Hindustan-Tibet road is just a fair weather road dotted with high passes and plagued with recurring landslides. It gets blocked during rains and snow in winter. The Manali-Keylong-Leh road remains open to traffic, officially, only from May 15 to November 15 each year, subject to weather conditions. At times it gets blocked earlier too. Then defence supplies are at the mercy of the helicopters which can fly only if the weather in the area permits. Keylong and Leh remain cut off for the winter months. It is these circumstances that had forced the Dhumal government to think of an all-weather rail connection to ensure vital food and defence supplies to the border areas.

The project involves extension of the already sanctioned and approved railway line from the Bhanupali-Bilaspur right upto Jogindernagar via Sundernagar/Mandi.

The total distance of the railway link from Pathankot-Jogindernagar-Manali-Leh will be 460 kilometres. Besides, it will involve broadening the existing 163 Km stretch of narrow gauge rail line from Pathankot to Jogindernagar along the existing alignment for which a provision of Rs. 1300 crore is reported to have already been approved by the Centre. From Jogindernagar to Manali it will be 95 km via Barot-Katrain-Patlikuhl-Kalath. From Manali to Keylong the railway distance will be 75 km via Palchan-Solang-Gondhala-Tandi. The next phase from Keylong to Pang will be a distance of 130 km touching Gyspa, Darcha-Pateso, bypassing Sarchu/Takh. The final phase from Pang to Leh will be the lengthiest one?160 km passing through More-Debring-Upashi-Choglamsar-Karu. The whole track will involve construction of 215 tunnels.

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