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New rail link to help develop Kashmir: PM

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Wednesday that the new rail tunnel linking the troubled Kashmir Valley and Jammu region will help develop Jammu and Kashmir.

Addressing hundreds in Urdu here in Jammu region after inaugurating the rail link, Manmohan Singh said, "Today, we are dedicating a marvellous and wonderful feat of engineering crafted across the Himalayas."

He added, "Despite difficult geographical conditions and adverse weather, this longest tunnel in the country has been completed within seven years. 

"This is not just an engineering marvel, but an all weather link between the valley and the rest of Jammu and Kashmir. This will usher in a new era in the development of the state, providing welfare and employment to the people here."

The prime minister said the products of the Kashmir Valley, including handicrafts and fruits, would reach the rest of India through this railway link as will products from the rest of the country to the valley. 

The rail bridge between Udhampur and Banihal would be the highest railway bridge in the world.

He said the rail tunnel was a part of his UPA government's commitment to develop Jammu and Kashmir.

He said the state had got in recent times 14 new colleges, nine ITIs and five India Reserve Police battalions, providing employment to locals.

"I want to assure the people of Jammu and Kashmir that (my) government will extend all possible support for the development of the people here."

As he spoke in Urdu, Manmohan Singh struck a chord with the people at the rally. He was cheered each time he spoke about ushering development in the state.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi told the rally that the hardships faced by the people of the state during the winter months are now a thing of the past. 

"Today’s inauguration of the all weather link between Jammu and the valley is a part of the UPA’s commitment to the peace and progress of the people here."

Gandhi said the National Conference-Congress government in the state had done commendable work in the last five years.

"The people in Kashmir are fed up with violence. They want peace and development. The large turnout of people during the Panchayat elections in the state is a proof of the people’s desire for peace and development."

"I know very well that painful incidents happen here occasionally, but our democracy has enough scope to sort out issues through dialogue and negotiations."

Manmohan Singh and Gandhi will fly to Udhampur army base on their way to New Delhi.