Engineering marvel to access Valley

India deserves applause for the construction of the Chenani-Nashri road tunnel in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). The 9.2-km-long tunnel, which was inaugurated on Sunday by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is India’s longest tunnel. But its greatness lies not so much in its length as it does in the fact that this is a technological marvel. Not only has it been built on a treacherous terrain, cutting through snow-clad mountains, but it has also used cutting-edge technology. This is the first tunnel in India and only the sixth in the world that incorporates a fully integra-ted mechanism that controls everything from outside — ventilation in the tunnel, evacuation of passengers in distress or vehicles that have broken down.

Importantly, the Chenani-Nashri tunnel will ease life for Kashmiris. Overland travel to Jammu and the rest of India has always been tedious and often not possible in winter when the highway is blocked by landslides and traffic jams. The new tunnel avoids landslide and avalanche-prone areas. Also, it cuts the distance between Srinagar and Jammu by 30 km and the travel time by two hours. Travel costs and expenditure on fuel, too, are expected to drop thanks to the new tunnel. The tunnel is part of a string of tunnels that the government is constructing along the Srinagar-Jammu route. Work on these must be taken up with the same energy and enthusiasm that was evident during the construction of the Chenani-Nashri tunnel. The Chenani-Nashri tunnel will bring Kashmir closer to Jammu and other parts of India in more ways than one. In addition to cutting the physical distance, it could reduce the Kashmiris’ sense of alienation from India. Hitherto, the Valley has been cut off from the rest of the country in winter. That isolation and a feeling of separation should decrease now.

Infrastructure projects in J&K will provide a boost to the state’s economy, too. It will increase the flow of tourists to the Valley and facilitate the swift transport of fruit from orchards in Kashmir to markets in New Delhi and beyond. While such projects are welcome, the Centre must bear in mind that roads and rails alone will not end the Valley’s isolation. Kashmiri alienation from India may have an economic component which can be addressed by boosting employment and opportunities but its roots lie in political grievances. Hence, New Delhi must find a political solution to the problem. Sadly, this has been neglected by the Narendra Modi government. Whether the Kashmiri youth choose terrorism or tourism will depend not just on roads and tunnels but on the Union government reaching out to the people of the state via political dialogue. The ball is in New Delhi’s court.

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