The PDP-BJP government’s assurance that development will bring peace seems to have made no difference to the disillusioned Kashmiris as the separatists have called for a shutdown on Sunday — the day when Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to inaugurate the Chenani-Nashri tunnel in Udhampur.
A united faction of Hurriyat Conference led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani has called for a statewide shutdown on 2 April. However, people in the Kashmir Valley are hardly enthusiastic about the opening of the longest road tunnel in South Asia. The tunnel is expected to reduce the travel time between Srinagar and Jammu by two hours and reduce the distance from 41 km to 10.89 km.’
Moreover, the tunnel is one of the most important infrastructural projects undertaken by the Government of India in decades. The tunnel, which is 9.2 km long, connects Udhampur with Ramban on the 286 km long Jammu-Srinagar highway and the work on building this four-lane engineering marvel started on 23 May, 2011. The scheduled date of completion of the Rs 3,720-crore project was May 2016, but the project saw many delays. It will also act as an all-weather alternative to the existing Jawahar tunnel on National Highway-1A. It is built by Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services (IL&FS) and is located at an altitude of 1,200 metres (nearly 4,000 feet).
“Rhetoric about development or construction of tunnels and roads is futile and won’t succeed to lure us. We have presented unparalleled sacrifice and nourished the movement with pious blood. We don’t nourish any animosity against the Indian Prime Minister but it is frightening and painful that instead of taking note of the genocide in the state, he is awarding and rewarding the assassins,” a joint statement by Hurriyat leadership, led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Muhammad Yasin Malik, said on Friday.
The Srinagar-Jammu Highway is one of the most important roadways in the country and during winters the road is often closed due to landslides prone in areas like Kud, Patnitop and Batote, the tunnel will now bypass them all.
“They waited for months to throw it open, even when people were forced to walk for days as the road was closed during winter. They did not allow the dead bodies to be ferried through the tunnel, saying they believe it would be inauspicious to allow dead bodies and ill-patients to cross the tunnel,” said Ghulam Mohammad Saki, who drives a passenger taxi from Srinagar Airport to Lal Chowk.
Referring to youths often damaging railway tracks when the tension rises in the Valley, Saki said, “When the situation gets worse, people go to the railway track and stop the trains and even throw stones at it. What difference does it make to have another tunnel.”
A total of 124 cameras and a linear heat detection system inside the tunnel will alert the Integrated Tunnel Control Room (ITCR) located outside the tunnel in case there is need for an intervention. The SOS boxes installed at an equal distance of 150 metre will act as emergency hotlines for commuters in distress. Commuters will also be able to use their mobile phones inside the tunnel. In case of an emergency, the engineers have constructed a parallel tunnel as well.
“In any other state, inauguration of this project would mean celebrations, but in Kashmir, infrastructural development is political and people don’t want to be associated with it,” Abdul Majid, a leading columnist, said. “Though there is no doubt that it will benefit us, but the recent developments and the unrest and the killings in the Valley have marred the excitement.”
Jitendra Singh, the Union minister in Modi government said that bandh call given by the separatists during Modi’s visit has “exposed” them as the one who are opposed to development and intend to play politics. “Their intention is not to ensure or seek development of Jammu and Kashmir, but to play politics.”
“If development would have solved the problems and issues of Kashmir then the Government of India has put in so much of money that the problems would have been solved long back,” said Ashok Bhan, senior advocate of the Supreme Court of India and chairman of Kashmir Policy and Strategy Group. “Dialogue and continued development is the need of the hour.”