Handique’s initiative: Silchar-Lumding BG to see light of the day

SILCHAR, Sept 10: While Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee is obsessed with her State, West Bengal, to flag off trains one after another and to clear projects, DoNER Minister Bijoy Krishna Handique has taken the initiative, much to the delight of people of Northeast to review the railway projects of the region, caught in logjams for years. He called a high-level meeting of railway and State officials which was attended by him and MPs, Kabindra Purkayastha, Lalit Mohan Shuklabaidya, Rajen Gohain and Biren Singh Engti.
General Manger (Construction) Shiv Kumar briefed the distinguished Assembly on the progress so far made on the Silchar-Lumding BG without touching on controversial issues, much debated in public. He specifically referred to the objections raised by the Army and the Forest Department of North Cachar Hills on the acquisition of land by the N F Railways which, as he said, delayed the construction.
Army is objecting to the construction at Redzol, 10 km down of Haflong, because the land is allotted to them for a defence training institute. The Forest Department similarly is not allowing the construction of a bridge as the land in question belongs to them. The Railways contended that they have purchased the land from the Autonomous District Council of the Hills District. The DoNER Minister assured to clear these hurdles after taking up the matters with the ministries concerned in Delhi.
Though the Union Minister did not think insurgency as one of the causes behind the abnormal delay in the unigauge conversion, the General Manager attributed the slow progress to insurgency, besides insufficient flow of funds and poor accessibility. The influence of “transport lobby” has also been denied.
Records pursued by this correspondent show that in 1984, the Railway Ministry after engineering cum traffic survey by RITES approved the BG track on Silchar-Badarpur-Lanka route at an estimated cost of Rs 600 crore. It was mysteriously shelved. After that the NF Railway officials at a press-briefing at Silchar Railway Station spoke of BG track on the existing MG with technical modification of tunnels and strengthening of bridges involving Rs 654 crore. Then came the most utopian scheme of BG through Meghalaya from Silchar to Jogighopa during the Railway Ministry of Jaffer Sharreif.
After all these experiments, obviously under the pressure of transport lobby, the then Railway Minister Ram Vilas Paswan came down to Silchar with Prime Minister Deve Gowda and laid the foundation stone of the Silchar-Lumding BG in 1996. According to the railway sources, the progress so far made has been 20 per cent only on the 237 km gauge conversion. Insurgency has been cited as the main cause for this dilly-dally.
This has in fact brought into sharp focus the indifferent attitude of both the Centre and the State government of Asom towards this vital communications link. In contrast, the 292-km-long rail link between Udhampur—Baramulla as announced by the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee at a cost of Rs 11,000 crore is complete up to Srinagar despite the spectre of dreaded insurgency. Also, work on India’s longest railway tunnel involving Rs 647 crore on Srinagar – Baramulla stretch is continuing uninterrupted. Handique said he convened the high-level meeting on the direction of Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh to review the progress of the BG track which was declared as a national project by him in 2005. It was decided at the meeting to set the deadline of 2012 for the completion of the much delayed project. The people of Barak Valley, Mizoram and Tripura as well as that of western Manipur, after long wait, can now hope this BG project involving Rs 4073.50 crore will ultimately see the light of the day. (Source - Sentinelassam)

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