Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to lay the foundation stone for a new India-Bangladesh railway project on May 27, a top railway official said on Tuesday.
A top official of Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) said that Modi on May 27 would also flag off a regular passenger train service from Agartala to Sealdah, Agartala to Silchar and passenger train services to Manipur (52 km) and Mizoram (84 km) on the newly-laid broad gauge line.
“Prime minister would attend the plenary session of North Eastern Council (NEC) in Shillong. From Shillong through remote control, the prime minister would lay the foundation stone of the Agartala (India)-Akhaura (Bangladesh) railway project,” a top official of NFR told IANS.
“Modi would also flag off regular passenger train service from Agartala to Sealdah, Agartala to Silchar and passenger train services to Manipur and Mizoram on the newly laid broad gauge line,” the official added.
An official of the Tripura planning and coordination department said the prime minister would inaugurate the two-day (May 27-28) plenary session of NEC, a regional planning body, in Meghalaya capital Shillong.
“He would hold interactions with the chief ministers and governors of all the eight northeastern states during the plenary session,” the official added.
The Rs.968 crore Agartala-Akhaura railway project was finalised in January 2010 when Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina met then prime minister Manmohan Singh during her visit to New Delhi.
“Following the Tripura government’s persistent persuasion and Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) intervention, the DoNER (Development of North Eastern Region) ministry has agreed to provide Rs.580 crore for the new railway project,” Tripura Transport Minister Manik Dey told reporters.
“If the DoNER ministry releases the funds, the necessary work for acquisition of required 67 acres land would start immediately,” he said.
During his recent visit to Tripura, Minister of State for Railways Manoj Sinha said the PMO has been supervising the new India-Bangladesh railway project with Tripura.
He said the 15 km (5 km on Indian side and 10 km on Bangladesh) long Agartala-Akhaura railway project would provide a major boost to development and economy of the northeastern region of India and eastern Bangladesh.
“The project would give a boost to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Act East’ policy,” Sinha added.
Modi discussed the railway project with Hasina during his visit to Dhaka in June last year.
“India’s external affairs ministry would provide necessary funds for the Bangladesh portion of the Agartala-Akhaura rail project. The DoNER ministry’s funds would be spent for the Indian portion of the project,” Tripura minister said.
The 1,650-km distance between Agartala and Kolkata would be reduced to only 550 km once the new rail track is linked through Bangladesh.
Currently, India and Bangladesh have four rail links with West Bengal.
The railway line from Guwahati passes through Lumding in Nagaon district (in central Assam) and southern Assam connecting land-locked Tripura’s capital Agartala and parts of Manipur and Mizoram with the rest of India.
The Guwahati-Silchar railway line is the lifeline for southern Assam comprising four districts – Cachar, Karimganj, Hailakandi, Dima Hasao district, known as Barak Valley, and the mountainous states of Tripura, Manipur and Mizoram.
These states are heavily dependent on this railway line for supply of foodgrain, fertilisers, petroleum products, construction materials and other commodities besides ferrying passengers.
The 437-km Lumding-Silchar and Badarpur-Agartala gauge conversion work was sanctioned in 1996.
It was declared a national project in 2004, thereby ensuring uninterrupted funding from the central government’s general budget. The project was hit by insurgency from 2006 to 2009 and work could only gain speed after that turbulent period.
In the first phase, the 210-km Lumding-Silchar gauge conversion project was completed last year.
In the second phase, the 227-km Badarpur-Agartala gauge conversion was scheduled to be completed in March but was completed three months earlier.
The Silchar-Jiribam (52 km) in Manipur and Silchar-Bhairabi (84 km) in Mizoram gauge conversion project are part of the Lumding-Silchar line along with other projects.
With the completion of gauge conversion work right up to Agartala, the Tripura capital was connected with the country’s broad gauge railway network through Guwahati at a distance of about 600 km this month.
After India’s independence, Agartala is the first state capital of the country to come up on the rail map (meter gauge line) in October 2008.