India sanctions Rs.1000 Crore for Agartala-Akhaura (Indo-Bangla) Rail project in the North East

Rail TrackAgartala (AGTL): The Centre has sanctioned Rs 1,000 crore for laying of 15.06 km long tracks to connect Indian Railways with Bangladesh through the North East. “We were informed by the Centre on Saturday that it has sanctioned Rs 580 crore for acquiring land and laying of five km long tracks on the Indian side,” state transport Secretary Samarjit Bhowmik said today.

The External Affairs Ministry had earlier sanctioned Rs 400 crore to Bangladesh for acquiring land and laying of about ten km long track on the Bangladesh side, he said. The project would be completed by 2017, Bhowmick said, adding, an elevated corridor would be constructed for covering 3.7 km length of the route.

He said, IRCON would construct the entire route and other works as it has experience of working in Bangladesh. The 15.06 km long track would connect Agartala with Akhaura railway junction in Bangladesh.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina discussed on the issue during the former’s visit to Dhaka on June 6-7 and India would fund the entire project, Bhowmick said.

State Transport minister Manik Dey said completion of the project would reduce the distance from Agartala to Kolkata from 1,650 km to 515 km and difficult hilly terrain could be avoided. “This will improve trade and commerce between Bangladesh and India’s North East and enhance people to people contact,” he added.

Transportation between India and Bangladesh:

Transportation between India and Bangladesh bears much historical and political significance for both countries, which possessed no ground transport links for 43 years, starting with the partition of Bengal and India in 1947. The Kolkata–Dhaka Bus (1999) and the Dhaka–Agartala Bus (2001) are the primary road links between the two countries; a direct Kolkata-Agartala running through Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh is being developed by both countries. The Maitreyi Express (Friendship Express) was launched to revive a railway link between Kolkata and Dhaka that had been shut for 43 years.

Background

The partition of Bengal and India on August 15, 1947 led to the establishment of the Indian state of West Bengal; East Bengal became a province of the state of Pakistan. The hostile bilateral relations between the two nations made transport links very limited, despite the cultural and commercial links between West and East Bengal. At the outbreak of the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, the only railway link between Dhaka and Kolkata was shut down, and not resumed until 2008 with the launch of the Maitreyi Express.

After the establishment of Bangladesh following the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, bilateral relations improved considerably, but the two governments moved slowly on implementing a 1980 agreement on improving transport links. In the 1990s, the Indian and Bangladeshi governments collaborated to open bus services betweenKolkata, the capital of West Bengal and one of the largest cities in India, and Dhaka, the capital and largest city of Bangladesh. In 2001, another bus service was launched to connect Dhaka with Agartala, the capital of the Indian state of Tripura the second largest city of Northeast India that borders Bangladesh in the east.

Akhaura-Agartala rail link

Indian and Bangladeshi governments will start work late by December or early by January 2015 on a new rail link to ease surface transport. India will build a 15-km railway tracks linking Tripura’s capital Agartala with Bangladesh’s southeastern city of Akhaura, an important railway junction connected to Chittagong port, resource-rich Sylhet and Dhaka. An agreement to implement the railway project was signed between India’s former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Bangladesh Premier Sheikh Hasina during her visit to India in January 2010. Total cost of the proposed project is estimated at Rs.252 crore. The Indian Railway Construction Company (IRCON) would lay the new railway tracks on both sides of the border. Of the 15 km rail line, five km of tracks fall in the Indian territory. The NFR is now laying tracks to connect Tripura’s southern most border town Sabroom, 135 km south of here. From Sabroom, the Chittagong international sea port is just 72 km

Kolkata-Agartala link

Since the 1980s, the Indian and Bangladeshi governments have sought to negotiate an agreement permitting commercial vehicles to pass through Bangladeshi highways in order to reach the northeastern states of India from the west; a concept described in India as the “Bangla Corridor.” Such an arrangement is being promoted for its benefit to bilateral commerce, the transport cost reduction for Indian businesses and additional revenue for Bangladesh. In 2006, both governments began working on a proposal to provide a bus service directly connecting Kolkata with Agartala, the capital of the Indian state of Tripura, which borders eastern Bangladesh. As of 2007, travelling distance through Indian territory is an estimated 1,700 km (1,056 mi), but a direct road link via Dhaka would shorten the travelling distance to an estimated 400 km (249 mi), considerably reducing the costs of transport for Indian businesses, which have to transport goods and services through the narrow “Chicken’s Neck” territory that is bordered by northern Bangladesh and southern Nepal. However, such an arrangement has been politically sensitive in Bangladesh.

On June 2 2015, the first trial run of a direct bus between Kolkata and Agartala ran, a route distance of 500 km, as compared to the 1650 km if it ran through the Chicken’s Neck to remain within India. This bus made an overnight stop in Dhaka. General service began on June 7, and the first bus was flagged off by political leaders including Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina, and Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Bannerjee.

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