Fund crunch hits India-Bangladesh rail project

Agartala, Oct 5 (IANS) Five years after the Rs.575-crore India-Bangladesh railway project was finalised by the two governments, it is still uncertain when work will begin as no funds have been allocated yet.

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

After meeting Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar, Gupta said: “No funds have also been allocated for land acquisition for the railway project. We will start work immediately after the sanction of funds.”

The project was finalised in January 2010 when Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina met her then Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh during her visit to New Delhi.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi discussed the project with Hasina during his visit to Dhaka in June.

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

The Indian government had announced it will bear the entire cost of the 15-km railway project. Of the 15 km, 5 km fall in the Indian territory and the remaining in Bangladesh.

“The NITI 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’s 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 the 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 Delhi meeting, where officials of the ministries of railway, Development of North Eastern region (DoNER) and external affairs and the Tripura government participated.

Bhowmik said India’s external affairs ministry earlier announced to provide funds to lay rail tracks in the 10-km Bangladesh territory.

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

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

“On the Indian side, some portion of the track is likely to be elevated,” the minister said.

The project’s cost was earlier estimated at Rs.271 crore. In addition, Rs.302 crore was needed to acquire around 97.6 acres of land in Tripura for laying the track.

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

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

The 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, for which alignment of rail line and other technical details were earlier finalised by officials of both India and Bangladesh.

“The new railway connectivity between the northeastern state and Bangladesh will 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 southeast Asian countries,” Manik Dey said.

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

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