Funds crunch mires Indo-Bangla rail project

Five years after the plan for an India-Bangladesh railway network was approved, uncertainty persists over the project as no funds have been allocated yet, authorities said.

“It is not certain when the work for the project would start. No funds have been allocated so far for the Agartala (India)-Akhaura (Bangladesh) railway project,” Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) general manager R.K. Gupta told reporters here on Sunday evening.

indo-Bangla railTripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar said: “No funds were also allocated for land acquisition for the railway project. We would start work immediately after the sanction of funds.”

The Rs.575-crore project was finalised in January 2010 when Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina met then Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh during her visit to New Delhi.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sheikh Hasina discussed the project again during Modi’s visit to Dhaka on June 6-7 this year.

India announced it would bear the entire cost of the 15-km long railway project. Of the 15 km, five km fall in the Indian territory and the rest 10 km in Bangladesh.

“NITI (National Institution for Transforming India) Aayog had decided in a meeting in Delhi on June 18 to put in place the vital railway project between India and Bangladesh by December 2017,” Tripura transport secretary Samarjit Bhowmik told IANS on Monday.

Bhowmik, who attended the NITI Aayog meeting, said: “The alignment and other technicalities of laying the track to link Agartala railway station with Bangladesh’s Akhaura railway station have been changed recently. A final report on the new alignment was also submitted for sanction of funds.”

NITI Aayog’s advisor Animesh Singh presided over the meeting in New Delhi, where officials of ministries of railways, development of north-eastern region (DoNER), external affairs and the Tripura government participated.

Bhowmik said that India’s external affairs ministry earlier announced it would provide funds to lay the tracks in the Bangladesh territory.

Tripura Transport Minister Manik Dey also held a meeting with Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu in New Delhi on September 23 and urged him to expedite the issues related to the project.

“The railway minister told me that he would personally talk to the Railway Board and external affairs ministry about the funding of the project,” Dey told IANS on Monday.

The project cost was earlier estimated at Rs.271 crore. In addition, Rs.302 crore was needed to acquire around 97.60 acres of land in India’s Tripura for laying the tracks.

“After the latest alignment of the project, now 72 acres of land would be required. Hence, the funds required would be reduced to Rs.98 crore from Rs.302 crore,” Dey added.

“Earlier, the DoNER ministry committed to provide funds to lay tracks on the Indian side. But recently the DoNER ministry categorically expressed its inability to give funds. Railway ministry was considering providing funds for the Tripura part of the project, but has not yet taken a final decision,” an NFR official said.

State-owned Indian Railway Construction Company (IRCON) is expected to lay the tracks on both sides of the border. The NFR is the nodal agency for the project.

“The railway connectivity between the north-eastern state and Bangladesh would boost socio-economic, trade and business ties between the two countries. After the commissioning of the railway project, Tripura would act as a corridor to the South-East Asian countries,” Dey said.

Dey told IANS: “It would become cost-effective to ferry men and materials between the two countries, and between the mountainous north-east region and other parts of India via Bangladesh once the railway project is completed.”

The 1,650-km distance between Agartala and Kolkata would be reduced to only 515 km once the rail track is constructed through Bangladesh, he added.

– IANS | Agartala