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Security dilemma for J&K link

india Updated: Oct 20, 2007 02:16 IST
Neelesh Misra
Neelesh Misra
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Months before the first train rolls into the Kashmir Valley on India’s most threatened rail stretch, no one is quite sure who will ensure the safety of the train and its passengers.

The Ministry of Railways — now making huge profits — is dragging its feet over paying for security, insisting that the state government must pay to secure the tracks, trains and other property, and raise a security force.

State security officials, however, say the convention of sharing half the cost by both sides, as is prevalent in other states, should be followed in Jammu and Kashmir as well.

An emergency meeting in Srinagar this week saw strong disagreements between railway officials, including R Velu, the minister of state, and senior security officials from Jammu and Kashmir including Director-General of Police Kuldeep Khoda, an official present at the meeting told HT.

The first railway link connecting the Valley with the rest of the country — delayed by years — will be under threat from the many militant groups active in the state. There have been several attacks around track-laying sites and one engineer and his brother were shot dead in 2004 by suspected militants, leading to a temporary shutdown of work. The team of 180 engineers and hundreds of other employees had then complained about inadequate security arrangements.

By June next year, trains are expected to run on a 119-kilometer stretch from Qazigund in southern Kashmir to Baramulla town. But the link will be connected to the national network only in 2012.

To begin with, a 3,000-member security force is needed for the train, incurring a projected expense of Rs 35 crore a year. “The Railways wants to spend on everything but security. They say security is the job of the state. We say it should be 50:50,” a state government official said. “It is a myopic approach. The Railways Ministry unilaterally decided that even the guarding of rail property like tracks and bridges is the job of the state government.”

Velu, who is coordinating the project, told an editors’ conference in Srinagar: “We are constantly reviewing the position. As per requirements, we’ll increase or decrease the security required.” He did not go into funding details.

The Railways has had a turbulent history with militancy in the state. In the late 1990s, there were frequent attacks on the Jammu-Lakhanpur stretch. Several coaches were destroyed and derailed. It was not possible or feasible to send them to the coach factory for repairs (it would cost more than getting new ones), so they were abandoned and sold as scrap.