Agartala: Extension of the Agartala-Sabroom railway network and broad-gauge conversion of the Kumarghat-Agartala track has been stalled because of lack of funds and land acquisition problems.
Officials of the Northeast Frontier railway made this clear to the Lok Sabha’s 30-member estimate committee during its recent visit to Mizoram and Manipur. Disclosing this at an interaction with the media today, CPM MP from West Tripura and the party’s central committee member Khagen Das said during the estimate committee’s visit to Imphal, he had requested the NF railway officials to meet him at the hotel where the committee members were staying.
“They made it clear to me that unless fund constraints and land acquisition problems were resolved, the extension between Agartala and Sabroom, Tripura’s southernmost subdivision and gauge conversion between Kumarghat in North Tripura and Agartala may not be completed till early 2019,” said Das.
He deplored the sanction of only Rs.5 crore for the gauge conversion which required an allocation of Rs.132 crore. Out of the Rs.300 crore needed for the extension, only Rs.160 crore have been sanctioned in the current year’s railway budget.
“The Prime Minister had earlier assured a delegation of CPM MPs and leaders that Rs 250 crore would be sanctioned for the Agartala-Sabroom extension project but the railway board chairman was non-committal when we met him,” said Das.
He rued the fact that railway work in Tripura was suffering at a time when work on the Lumding-Silchar gauge conversion was progressing well.
“The gauge conversion between Lumding-Silchar-Badarpur suffered because of the Assam government’s failure to provide dedicated security in the tunnel 7 and 10 regions, where many abductions including that of an executive engineer, has taken place. But now security is available and work is going on,” he said.
Regarding the land acquisition problem, Das said 198.05 hectares of land between Udaipur and Sabroom fall under forests and the Trishna wildlife sanctuary.
“We have raised the issue with the Union ministry of forest and environment and requested the minister to ensure that 172.856 hectares of land belonging to the forest department are denotified. The rest of the land belongs to the Trishna wildlife sanctuary and the rare species of bison there can be easily relocated to a place 30km away and a part of the land can be released,” said Das.
He, however, said a dispute over a small stretch of land between Agartala and Udaipur through which the Agartala-Sabroom railway track will pass has ended and work on it is scheduled to begin in the first week of November.
“The gauge conversion between Kumarghat and Agartala is scheduled to be completed tentatively by March 2015 but railway officials have told me that unless funds are sanctioned adequately the work may not be completed even by early 2019,” said Das.
On the 15km Agartala-Akhaura (in Bangladesh) railway linkage, he said the governments of India and Bangladesh signed a memorandum of understanding on September 16 and work is all set to begin now after the railway board authorises its international construction wing (IRCON) to start the work.
“The project will entail an expenditure of Rs.252 crore and the cost will be borne by the Centre,” said Das.
He also demanded the inclusion of Tripura and Mizoram in the proposed trans-Asian railway network. “The present alignment drawn by the railway authorities is that the network will start from New Jalpaiguri in Bengal and will move ahead through Guwahati, Lumding, Silchar, Imphal and Kaley in Myanmar but we want Tripura and Mizoram also to be included in the alignment. If the route starts from Calcutta across Bangladesh, the distance will be reduced by 883km,” said Das. He added that the estimate committee’s chairperson, Sardinha Francisco, was also sympathetic to the demand raised by Tripura.