Work on the all important 12.24 km India-Bangladesh new railway line is progressing at a snail's pace on both sides of the border, more than 11 years after the around Rs 1,000 crore project was finalised between the Prime Ministers of the two countries.
Tripura government's Principal Secretary in-charge of the Transport Department Sriram Taranikanti said that the first phase work on the Indian (Tripura) side of the project would be completed this year and the second phase would be finished by June next year.
"According to the project implementing engineers, the progress of the work in the Bangladesh side is very slow. Only 50 per cent work on the Bangladesh side has been completed and there is no information when the remaining work on the other side of the border would be completed," Taranikanti told IANS.
He said that after the completion of the Agartala (India)-Akhaura (Bangladesh) railway project Tripura and other northeastern states would not only be connected with the Bangladesh railway network, the region would be linked with the Chittagong international sea port of that country.
"Cost and time would be saved greatly in ferrying goods and heavy machinery between the northeast region and the rest of the country and abroad using the Bangladesh railway network and ports," he said.
Union Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER) Minister B. L. Verma on Thursday visited the Agartala-Akhaura railway project and asked the IRCON, Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) and engineers and officials to step up the pace so that the entire work on the Indian side can be completed by June 2022 without further delay.
The Union minister told the engineers and officials that the Agartala-Akhaura railway project has national and international importance.
The government-owned IRCON, under the Ministry of Railways, has been executing the project for which the Development of North Eastern Region Ministry and India's Ministry External Affairs (MEA) are bearing the entire cost (Rs 1,000 crore) of the project on either side.
The Agartala-Akhaura railway line would facilitate ferrying of goods to and from both the countries and greatly benefit India's land-locked northeastern states.
IRCON Chief General Manager (Works) Vinod Kumar Gupta said that the journey time between Agartala and Kolkata, via Bangladesh, would be reduced by a third, from 1,613-km through mountainous northeastern states via Siliguri (West Bengal) to a mere 514 km.
"Around 1100 km distance would be reduced and 22 hours journey time would be saved when people and goods from northeast India would go to Kolkata via Bangladesh and vice-versa," Gupta said.
Another IRCON engineer said that work on the Agartala-Akhaura railway project was on and after the ongoing monsoon (June-September), the pace of work would be stepped-up.
"The fresh target of completion of the project on the Indian side has been re-scheduled to June 2022," a top official told IANS.
The official refusing to be named said that linking with the existing Agartala railway station, of the 12.24 km India-Bangladesh new railway line, 5.46 km railway track would be laid in India (on the outskirts of the capital city Agartala) and 6.78 km railway line would be placed on the Bangladesh side.
Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb recently held a meeting with the IRCON officials and engineers led by Director (works) Jogesh Mishra and Agartala-Akhaura railway project head Raman Singla (Assistant General Manager) and directed them to complete the project at the earliest.
The IRCON official said that on the Indian side, 3.1 km portion of the railway track would be elevated to avoid 26 acres of farm land and habitations.
The IRCON, which has widespread operations in several states in India and in other countries, including Bangladesh, Malaysia, Nepal, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, UK and Sri Lanka, is now also executing the 86.87 km long Khulna-Mongla rail line project between India and Bangladesh along West Bengal.
The Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) is the nodal agency of the Agartala-Akhaura railway project, which was finalised in January 2010 when Bangladesh premier Sheikh Hasina met then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during her visit to New Delhi.
According to the experts, economists, traders and leaders of the Chambers of Commerce and Industry, economic activity between northeast India and Bangladesh would get a big boost after the completion of the railway project.
Tripura University's Head of the Economic Department Ashish Nath said that after the execution of this project, the growing trade and economic activity between the northeastern states and Bangladesh would increase further, benefiting both sides.
"All the previous rail links, existing till the partition of India and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) must be restored for the all round benefit of the two countries," Nath told IANS.
Currently, India and Bangladesh have four rail links with West Bengal.
The existing railway line in the mountainous terrain from Guwahati passes through Lumding in Nagaon district (in central Assam) and southern Assam connecting Agartala and parts of Manipur and Mizoram with the rest of the country.
In October 2008, with the extension of the metre gauge track up to Agartala through southern Assam, Tripura became the first state capital in the northeast to be brought on India's rail map after the country's independence.
Later, the metre gauge line was converted into broad gauge and extended up to southern Tripura's bordering town Sabroom, which is just 72 km away from Chittagong international sea port in Bangladesh.
(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at email@example.com)
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