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Railways junks Anji rail bridge in J&K

The Indian Railways has now, in principle, decided to abandon the construction of Anjikhad bridge near Katra on the 126-kilometre-long controversial Katra-Banihal rail line in higher Himalayas in Jammu and Kashmir. The railways has already abandoned about 70 per cent of the controversial alignment in the higher Himalayas, after repeatedly ignoring the opinions of experts, including the eminent railway engineer E Sreedharan.  

Last month, the Railway Board decided to abandon the much-touted mega-arch bridge over the Anji river north of the Katra town. This belated decision is a clear sign that the board did not consider the proposal for a change of alignment properly for the last so many years, ignoring advice from its own engineers.

The railways was still hopeful of constructing the Anji bridge till January, when it floated a tender for its design. It was meant to have closed in March. But, soon, the reality dawned on the railway officials and they realised that the alignment of the line was wrong and it could not sustain such a sensitive bridge over the Anji. The construction work on the line reached the edge of the river [as shown in the picture].

With the abandoning of the Anji bridge project, the construction work on this section has come to a standstill almost 10 years after the project was started. Earlier, the railways had got into trouble with the design and alignment of the much-hyped bridge over the Chenab, which is about 19 kilometres away from the Anji bridge. Effectively, just five per cent of the work has been completed on this section, which was supposed to have opened for the public in 2007.

Many railway officials feel that the disagreement over the alignment of this line is caused by the ego tussle among the top officials of the organisation.

There are three sections of the complete project, one of which has already been completed and opened for the public as the Baramulla-Qazigund line. However, it is of little use for commuters as the valley is still not connected with Katra via Banihal.

Now, the issue of alignment of this railway line has reached the Delhi high court through a public interest litigation. The petitioner Centre for Public Interest Litigation, represented by Prashant Bhushan, has argued that the alignment of this line has design defects and should be changed, taking into account the alternative designs proposed by the former chief engineer of Northern Railway A K Verma and others.
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