Shimla: In a major push to the proposed Manali-Leh rail link as proposed by Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is said have given in-principle approval to the project. The project is being seen of great significance keeping in view security concerns of the country following China’s success in completing the Lhasa rail line. The proposal has already brought more dividends to the state than what the state leadership may have initially dreamt of. In a way, it promises a revolution, a first in the state’s history.
Lying dormant on the sidelines of national concerns, Himachal suddenly appears to have become of strategic important to the country as can be seen from the urgency in completing the Rohtang tunnel keeping in view opening up an alternative all-weather route to the Leh area and now as the only feasible corridor to take China head-on.
The initial plan was to extend the Pathankot-Jogindernagar rail line up to Leh, but now the Centre is more keen to build a line from Bilaspur to Leh. The government has already cleared the Bhanupalli-Bilaspur line, while Rs 1,300 crore have been sanctioned for gauge conversion of the Pathankot-Jogindernagar line, which would later be joined to the Bilaspur-Leh line.
It is almost ironic that not even a single inch of rail line was added to the network in Himachal after independence. The two existing railway tracks – the Shimla-Kalka line, now a UNESCO heritage line, and the Pathankot-Jogindernagar line, were build a century back, and are still considered to be engineering marvels. The state has for long been demanding extension of the rail network, but for years, railway budgets had been promising something but delivered nothing for the state. And now suddenly the state’s fortunes seem to have taken a U-turn with a railway revolution at the doorstep.
The Central Government, in total, is planning to execute at least 650 kilometers of rail line in he state, whereas the state has around 220 kilometres network as of now, which means that the network would be increased three times. This would require a budget of at least Rs 10,000 crore, which by all estimates would be a major investment for the Railway Ministry after the Konkan rail line and the Srinagar-Jammu line, which is still under construction. As now, the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office) has given its nod, work on these projects is expected to take steam soon.
The proposed railway lies, whenever completed, would have the potential to completely change the industrial-economic map of the hill state with the only major hurdle in industrialization of the area – connectivity- having been overcome. A number of industrial houses may plan an early entry to park themselves at vantage points throughout the proposed lines, which may still be advantageous to them in a way keeping in view the tax holiday being extended by the government. An immediate impact may be escalation in land prices in the state, and probably another round of special economic zones.
In nutshell, it can be said that the state is headed for an industrial revolution and, therefore, it is important that the administration should be prepared in advance to handle the emerging -socio-economic realities of the day.
Another important factor that has arisen here is that of initiative to think out of the box to gain maximum from the Central resources considering the state’s own meager assets. The chief Minister should be congratulated to have brought in the national security perspective while lobbying for a rail line for the state, which is the only reason the Centre is now pursuing the project. Considering that Himachal has little political might at the Centre, it can only get concessions on the basis of its strategic location. A good beginning has been made, and now the state bureaucracy needs to keep up to the good work to see that the project do not get derailed midway.