Giving wings to her father’s dream of making Suchetgarh JK’s Wagah, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti Saturday said she will be delighted if the border town is promoted as a people-to-people meeting point with Sialkot, in Pakistan, across the International Border.
She urged media to highlight the cultural camaraderie that exists between the people of India and Pakistan. “I wonder if hostilities can become news between the two neighbours, why can’t cultural bonhomie,” she asked, while touring border areas of Suchetgarh and shrine of Baba Chamliyal, revered by people on both sides of the IB.
During her day-long tour, the Chief Minister, who was accompanied by Deputy Chief Minister, Dr. Nirmal Kumar Singh, also inspected ongoing works at Mubarak Mandi Heritage Society, Maharaja Hari Singh Park, Tawi Barrage and the Jammu Haat.
Minister for I&C, Chander Parkash Ganga, Minister for PHE, I&FC, Sham Chaudhary, Minister of State for Culture, Tourism & Education, Priya Sethi, Principal Secretary to Chief Minister, Navin Kumar Chaudhary, Divisional Commissioner, Jammu, Dr. Pawan Kotwal, Secretary Tourism, Farooq Ahmad Shah, Director Tourism, Jammu, R. K. Verma and DC Jammu, Simrandeep Singh were also present.
While interacting with media-persons on the sidelines of her marathon tour, the Chief Minister invoked the legacy of former Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, by sending a strong message of peace and reconciliation to both India and Pakistan. She cited the example of US and Iran, two sworn enemies, who have recently ended hostilities and stitched a new phase of engagement. “If US and Iran can join hands, I see no reason why India and Pakistan cannot come together to restore stability and begin a new era of peace and prosperity in the region,” she added.
Mehbooba Mufti described as most unfortunate the recent incident at Handwara, but hoped that peace will be firmly entrenched in the valley, where years of turbulence has brought untold miseries upon the people.
Favouring more transit points for people-to-people contact, the Chief Minister said cultural affinity across the two regions is too strong to resist. I hope our good intentions are reciprocated by our neighbour,” she added.
The Chief Minister, who also holds the charge of the Tourism Department, said Jammu has all the makings of an ideal tourist destination, provided the right strategy is framed to showcase Mubarak Mandi Heritage Complex in the City of Temples, Mughal Sarais in Rajouri, Ranjit Sagar Dam in Basohli, border tourism in Suchetgarh and R.S. Pura and nature destinations like Patnitop, Bhadarwah and Warwan valley. “I promise to take tourism to all corners of Jammu, for which a proposal for a separate Tourist Circuit will be shortly finalized,” she stated.
Upon her arrival at Suchetgarh, Mehbooba Mufti walked up to the Zero Line, where she stressed upon landscaping the open spaces by planting wild flowers so the area becomes alluring for the visiting tourists.
Secretary Tourism briefed the Chief Minister about the Swadesh Darshan Project, funded by the Ministry of Tourism, under the Himalayan Circuit for development of Suchetgarh as a border destination. He said former Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, during his tour to Suchetgarh on December 18 last year, had incorporated children’s park and musical fountain in the project, for which funds will be sourced from the PM’s Development Package.
The other components of the Rs 5-crore project include restoration of Old Octroi Post, construction of Multipurpose Hall, development of water-body and landscaping of lawns to enhance the ambience of the place.
While inspecting the Tourist Facilitation Centre, the Chief Minister directed Tourism Secretary to give wide publicity to Suchetgarh and other border areas on its web portal so that footprint of tourists increases. To provide better connectivity, she said she will take up with Centre the four-lanning of the R.S. Pura-Suchetgarh Road under CRF, for which a proposal at an estimated cost of Rs.44 crore has been framed.
Mehbooba Mufti later arrived at the shrine of Baba Chamliyal where she was briefed about the facilities being provided to the devotees during the Mela. The high point of the Mela remains the meeting between BSF and the Pakistan Rangers to exchange chadar and shakar as a token of love and respect for Baba Chamliyal by the people living on both sides of the border.
After paying obeisance at the shrine, the Chief Minister went up to the Zero Line. She issued directions for upgrading the langar and also ordered landscaping of the premises to make the shrine attractive for the visiting devotees.
The Tourism Department has spent Rs.1.58 crore for creating resting places, Information Centres, viewing decks, amphi-theatre and lavatories.
The Chief Minister also visited Baba Sidh Gouriya Mandir, near Swankha, where she gave directions for cleaning the pond and landscaping the shrine premises.
Earlier, the Chief Minister began her city tour by visiting Mubarak Mandi Heritage Complex. She underlined the need to position Jammu as a major cultural destination by channelising the huge footfall of Mata Vaishnodevi Devi pilgrims towards the heritage treasure trove in the city.
The Chief Minister, however, noted with displeasure the non-utilization of funds sanctioned for restoration of the complex to its pristine glory.
“Restoration of the structures will take time. We need to explore foreign expertise and funding to revive the heritage structure. Meanwhile, we will landscape the lawns by planting exotic trees and flowers and laying ornamental benches to spruce up the complex precincts,” she said, while passing instructions for rebuilding the coronation place of the Maharaja.
While taking appraisal of the upcoming Maharaja Hari Singh Park, which is part of the Tawi Riverfront Project, the Chief Minister directed the JDA to plant exotic trees to create green spaces in the city. She also suggested replacement of musical fountains by coffee shop-cum-library so that people with literary taste find a somber recreational place for an outing.
The Chief Minister also planted a sapling in the park to kick-start the plantation drive in the park.
Regarding the optimal use of land and resources at Jammu Haat, the Chief Minister said she will soon convene a meeting to discuss the best use of the location, which is ideally-located in the heart of the winter capital. She also hinted at amalgamating the Haat with the Tawi Riverfront Development Project.
While inspecting ongoing work on Tawi Barrage, which is one of the three components of the Artificial Tawi Lake Project, the Chief Minister was informed by I&FC Secretary that 11 gates on Badi Tawi will be completed by May 31, while the remaining 20 gates are slated to be completed by March next year.
The Union Ministry of Water Resources will fund the project at a total cost of Rs.66 crore, which money will be utilized on the construction of the barrage, retention of water and beautification of embankments of the reclaimed land.
Minister for Finance, Labour & Employment, Dr. Haseeb A. Drabu, Minister of State for H&UDD, H&ME and Social Welfare, Asiea Naqash, MP, Jugal Kishore and MLA Jammu East, Rajesh Gupta, besides several senior officers of the concerned departments accompanied the Chief Minister during the tour.