PM flags off Kashmir train amid shutdown call


Srinagar : Prime Minister Manmohan Singh inaugurated the first ever train service in the Kashmir valley Saturday amid a shutdown called by separatists and curfew-like restrictions in parts of the city to thwart protests.

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The prime minister inaugurated the train service between south and central Kashmir districts of Anantnag and Badgam Saturday morning. He then left for New Delhi, after completing his two-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir.

All markets, traffic, educational institutions and banks remained closed throughout the valley Saturday in view of the separatists’ shutdown call as authorities imposed curfew-like restrictions in the old city areas of Srinagar to prevent violent protests.

With public transport off the roads, attendance in government offices was very thin. Kashmir University announced cancellation of all exams being held by it Saturday.

Singh was accompanied by United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi, union Railway Minister Lalu Prasad and union Water Resources Minister Saifuddin Soz during the inauguration.

“Manmohan Singh Zindabad, Lalu Prasad Yadav Zindabad”, the people present at the heavily guarded station shouted as the train rolled slowly on the track to begin its historic journey to south Kashmir’s Anantnag town.

The entire area around the Nowgam railway station had been taken over by the security forces and entry was allowed only to those holding specially issued passes.

The prime minister and the railway minister waved green flags to signal the inauguration of the flower-bedecked train. No dignitary made any speech during the function, which lasted for less than half an hour.

Part of the prestigious Rs.112.70 billion (Rs.11,270 crores) Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla rail link project connecting the Kashmir valley to the rest of India, the 116 km Qazigund-Baramulla section has been laid at a cost of Rs.22.70 billion.

Having a rail link between the valley and the outside world has been a dream of the locals for decades.

To begin with, trains will run between the central Rajwansher (Budgam district) to south Kashmir’s Anantnag district, covering a distance of 66 km. The fare for travel between Rajwansher to Anantnag will be Rs.15.

The regular train service will commence Sunday. The scheduled stops of the train will be Budgam, Srinagar, Pampore, Kakapora, Awantipora, Panjgam and Bijbehara. There will be eight coaches in the train.

During his stay in the valley, the prime minister held a meeting with all the 10 mainstream political parties here Friday at the Sher-e-Kashmir International Convention centre (SKICC) in Srinagar during which leaders of various parties expressed their views about the timing of the assembly elections due here before the year end.

Addressing a media conference Friday, Manmohan SIngh said elections were the only democratic means to test popularity and everyone should join them.

He also assured that the government would ensure the forthcoming elections remained free and fair.

Singh also inaugurated the 450 MW first phase of the Baglihar hydel power project in Jammu region.

Separatists had called for a complete shutdown in the valley to protest the prime minister’s visit. Two protesters were killed in police and paramilitary firing in Nowhatta area of Srinagar Friday and more than 30 others were wounded.