Delay haunts Lumding-Silchar-Badarpur-Kumarghat BG line due to funds crunch

Agartala/Guwahati: The extension of the broad gauge railway network from Lumding in Assam to Silchar, Badarpur and Kumarghat in North Tripura is being delayed because funds have not been sanctioned.

Work has made considerable progress over the past few years its completion will not be possible before 2015.

This was explained to chief minister Manik Sarkar, revenue minister Badal Chowdhury, transport minister Manik Dey and senior officials of the state government by a delegation of Northeast Frontier Railway headed by Rakesh Goel, senior divisional manager of Lumding division, last night.

“Eighty per cent of the work on the extension of the 206km Lumding-Silchar broad gauge railway line has been completed while the same work on the 117km Badarpur-Kumarghat (North Tripura) line has made 70 per cent progress. The entire work is expected to be completed by the first part of 2015,” Rakesh Goel said.

He also said work on the 109km Kumarghat-Agartala broad gauge conversion was progressing but availability of funds was a constraint.

“In the current financial year, only Rs 5 crore has been sanctioned for this project though the requirement was of Rs 127 crore. When funds will be available the work will also gain momentum,” Goel added.

On behalf of the state government, the chief minister told the railway delegation that the state was extending all co-operation to the railway authorities and it was the railway’s responsibility to arrange for funds.

“We have completed land acquisition work on the Agartala-Sabroom line and handed it over to the railway authority. Only a small stretch of land requires permission from the Union ministry of forest and environment, which will be duly completed. Now the railway authority has to take initiative to ensure smooth progress of the work. Our priority now is conversion of the track into broad gauge,” the chief minister told the railway delegation.

Last night’s meeting also discussed the rail connectivity between Agartala and Akhaura railway junction in Bangladesh. India and Bangladesh had signed a memorandum of understanding on February 16 and a steering committee was formed.

“A meeting of the steering committee will be held in Dhaka on May 21-22 to discuss modalities for setting the work in motion; the state’s transport commissioner Kishore Ambuly will also attend the meeting,” Goel said.

Raising the issue of railway functioning in Tripura the chief minister pressed for improvement in service and strict adherence to timing schedule. “It seems as if old coaches and engines have been dumped in Tripura which often come to a standstill on the tracks, causing great inconvenience to the passengers. This must change and the railways must provide better coaches and engines with all basic amenities,” the chief said. The railway delegation assured the chief minister and his cabinet colleagues that all steps would be taken to improve the service within Tripura.

Meanwhile, the ministry of environment and forests has asked the Tripura government to secure a clearance from the National Board for Wildlife for the forest diversion of a railway project.

Sources said the forest advisory committee under the ministry, which met this month to discuss the project, has asked the state government to take permission from the board for diverting 172.85 hectares of forestland for the construction of a new broad gauge line between Agartala and Sabroom.

The Rs 1149.65 crore national railway project was sanctioned in 2008 and was to be commissioned by next year. The length of the proposed railway line is 111.8 km, which passes through Udaipur and Bagafa forest division and the Trishna wildlife sanctuary. The project will provide rail connectivity between the towns of West Tripura, Shipahijalla, Gomati and South Tripura districts, which are of strategic importance to the development of Tripura.

It will provide rail connectivity up to the Bangladesh International Border (till Sabroom). A total of 5823 trees will be felled during the execution of the project.

The committee said an environment clearance would be required, as the build up area is more than 20,000 square metres. The proposed railway line passes approximately 9 to 9.4 km from Trishna wildlife sanctuary. As it is within 10 km of the sanctuary, the state government will have to obtain the approval of the standing committee of the National Board of Wildlife.

Any project passing within 10 km of a protected area will have to take the clearance of the wildlife board. No unique eco-system is reported to exist in the land being diverted for the proposal. The site inspection report said as the proposed railway line will involve the clearing of a long stretch of forest area, significant adverse effects on the general forest eco-system is anticipated.

Some timber yielding species like Shorea robusta has been reported from the existing area. The committee found that the area is vulnerable to erosion and the railways has evaluated all possible alignments for minimum diversion of forestland.

Sources said the point of concern is that several railway projects in the region suffer due to various problems like paucity of funds, limited working season, militant activity and prevailing security scenario, delay in transfer of land to the project from the state government and forest clearance.

Admitting there are problems, a parliamentary panel under the ministry of home affairs has recommended that the best way to work is to properly plan and strategise for development keeping in view the limiting factors so that any development project is not held up halfway.

“Stumbling blocks such as limited working season can be tackled by customised technological solutions while administrative problems like forest clearances and land acquisition on time could be resolved by better co-ordination and persuasion at the highest level,” it said.

The panel said the ministry should ensure that all projects are completed as per the schedule and the fixed targets. “A railway board member should be made the in-charge of the railway projects in the Northeast and the member should review the implementations of the railway projects on a quarterly basis,” it said.