Connecting Atal Setu with rail-link imperative

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Shiv Kumar Padha
The history of Railways in India dates back to 160 years, when the first train in India, ran on 34 Km long track between Bori Bombay and Thane on 16th April 1853 which was pulled by three locomotive engines named Saleem, Sultan and Singh. In order to keep rails in working conditions and meet day today repairs, the first Railway workshop was established at Jamalpur near Munger (Bihar) in 1862. Since then, the railway network of India knew no bounds and the network was spread across the country. Though expanding railways network in the most difficult mountainous terrains like Simla Kalka, N Eastern railways, Konken railways, Rail link to Kashmir was very difficult rather impossible, yet trains facilities were taken to the threshold of its long chunk of population. Connecting entire country by the trains was not only difficult but challenging and Herculean task considering economic conditions and scarcity of the professionals in the country during those days.
NDA Government, under Prime Minister Modi, initiated several infrastructural projects in last 5 years. Besides other sectors like Health, Education and employment railway and roads sectors are pertinent to mention because the country has seen an unprecedented revolution in history of connectivity by road, rails and by Air since 2014. Among other long list of projects, Bharat Mala, UDAAN, ( Ude- Desh- Ka- Aam – Nagrik) Express ways, 25 new Airports, Setu Bhartum Projects, Atal Tunnel on Manali Leh Highway, 9.28 Km Nashri Chaneni tunnel in Jammu and Kashmir, 11.25 Km Pir Panchal railway tunnel at Banihal, world’s highest railway bridge (30 meters higher than Eiffel Tower of Paris) over Chenab river in J&K UT, introduction of double-decker trains, trains for carrying farmer’s produce to markets, introduction of high-speed bullet trains, driverless metros etc. Main objective of doing all this was to take the railways to door-steps of masses, including collection of luggage of the passengers from their homes by railways. It will not be an exaggeration if we call NDA regime, a period of development of railways. According to PM Modi, the benefits of development should reach upto the last man in the queue and the remotest place in the country. There is no doubt that much has been done in the expansion of railways network in the country but more is needed to be done to reach out those areas, which though situated very near railway network have been overlooked due to one reason or another. For instance, the entire area of Pathankot district of Punjab from Mamoon Cantt up to Dunera along left side of River Ravi with a population of three lakh, Dunera to Mani Mahesh of district Chamba of Himachal Pradesh with a population of six lakh and Basohli to Bhadarwah, Doda and Basohli to Ramkot falling in districts of Kathua, Doda with a total population of eight lakh, though situated quite near railway network, have been deprived of railway facilities at the time when the railways are reaching out the portals of masses. Whether it is Pathankot, Chamba, Kathua or Doda districts, all of them converge at Atal Setu, the confluence of three states i.e., J&K UT, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh. Atal Setu has emerged as a center of all these adjoining districts and if this iconic bridge is provided rail-link with Pathankot railway station, hardly 40 Km from Setu, it can cater to needs of large chunk of population who are compelled to make inter-state journey in piecemeal, thereby proving both costly and time-consuming for them. If the rail-link is provided to Atal Setu on Punjab side, the entire distance from Doda, Bhadarwah, Chamba, Bani to other parts of the country will be shortened by more than half.
Besides making journey of these districts comfortable short and economical, there are many other benefits of railway link in field of business, marketing, boosting tourism of Doda, Basohli, Bani and Bhadarwah, with transportation of essential commodities at easy rates. The Atal Setu is located at geometrical center of the three states and four districts of J&K UT, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh. It is worth mentioning here that entire trade between the erstwhile J&K state, Punjab was carried out via Basohli during sixteenth century in reign of Raja Kishan Pal of Basohli. The establishment of one dry port, where all the adjoining states can do their business by selling their produces, can also be considered. The trading corridor can help pool productions of individual states and can carry the articles to their destinations.
In the modern times, connecting areas which are located near the railway stations, no hilly terrain, are horizontal in approach, doesn’t need extra expenditure for laying railway track. The Rail link to Atal Setu with Pathankot will facilitate 15 lakh population with negligible expenditure as compared to its benefits. Rail link to Atal Setu can revolutionize lifestyle of the natives by enhancing their business and trade, facilitating their free to and fro movements. Rail link to Atal Setu can prove saviour for 15 lakh population in terms of employment, transportation and business.