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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Kalka-Shimla heritage rail line

September 23, 2008

A Herculean Railway Project for Himachal Pradesh and Nation

By Amba Charan Vashishth
Organiser - New Delhi, India - Special Report
September 28, 2008

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

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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