Nod for Bilaspur-Manali-Leh rail line heartens Himachalis

शिमला Shimla (SML): With Union government giving nod for the Bilaspur-Manali-Leh railway line, people of Himachal Pradesh are ecstatic. Apart from being of strategic importance, it is also expected to boost tourism potential of the area, right from Himachal Pradesh to Ladakh.

According to sources, in a meeting held on July 14, the Union government took the decision to strengthen the rail network in areas located close to Tibet. The meeting was chaired by national security adviser and attended by officials from central ministries of defense and external affairs.

The development assumes significance as, in his campaigns during Parliament elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had promised the line and had attacked the UPA regime for failing to start the strategically important project. Bilaspur-Manali-Leh rail line would pass through Bilaspur, Mandi, Kullu and Lahaul-Spiti districts of Himachal Pradesh to reach Leh. Since independence, the hill state has not witnessed much rail expansion, observers pointed out.

Defense expert Brigadier (retd) Khushal Thakur said that road, rail and air link to border areas are vital to keep the enemy at bay in Ladakh sector. “While the rail line is missing, road remains closed for five months in a year. Having rail network in Ladakh region would help increase mobility of troops and Union government should construct the rail line at the earliest. Forward strips, helipads and roads too should be constructed on war footing,” he added.

After the rail budget failed to mention about Bilaspur-Manali-Leh rail project, leader of opposition and former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal had met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi and had reminded him about the project.

The demand to construct rail line from Manali to Leh was raised first time when Dhumal was chief minister of the state. After that, members of Parliament from the state have also raised the issue with the Centre. Chief minister Virbhadra Singh had also, before presentation of Union rail budget, raised the issue with the Union government.

The cost of construction of the 498-km rail line has been estimated at Rs 22,831 crore with a negative rate of return of 4.46%. The Bilaspur-Manali-Leh rail line was one of the 114 socially desirable new line projects mentioned by then minister for railways, Mamta Banerjee, in her budget speech of 2010-11 for processing through Planning Commission for approval.

The Ladakh Autnomous Hill Development Council, Leh, in its proposed greater Leh master plan for the next 30 years, had already emphasised on detailed sector-wise projections. The Rs 414 crore future plan has already defined the land use for future projects, including proposed sites for construction of railway stations and tracks in areas for the proposed Kullu-Manali-Leh rail line, sources said.