Six years after the finalisation of a new India-Bangladesh railway project, railway ministers of the two countries on Sunday laid the foundation stone of a Rs 968 crore vital rail link scheme. Indian Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu and his Bangladeshi counterpart Mazibul Hoque jointly laid the foundation stone for the 15 km Agartala (India) - Akhaura (Bangladesh) railway project.
The Agartala-Akhaura railway project was finalised in January 2010 when Bangladesh premier Sheikh Hasina met then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during her visit to New Delhi. The project, which was sanctioned in the 2012-13 railway budget, would be a part of the Trans Asian Railway network and would provide a much shorter connectivity from northeastern states to Kolkata via Bangladesh.
Prabhu said that on completion, the India-Bangladesh rail link project would be a gateway to the entire northeastern region, comprising eight states. "The Agartala-Akhaura international railway link would boost socio-economic development of the mountainous northeast region," he said at a function organised to lay the foundation stone of the rail project and to flag-off Agartala-Delhi passenger train service.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had discussed the railway project with Hasina during his visit to Dhaka in June 2015. The Indian government would bear the entire expenditure of the railway project. Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) General Manager H.K.Jaggi said that the Union Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER) Ministry has already released Rs 97 crore to acquire required land to lay rail line in Tripura.
"Following the Tripura government's persistent persuasion and intervention by the Prime Minister's Office, the DoNER Ministry has agreed to provide Rs 580 crore for the Tripura part of the Agartala-Akhaura railway project," Tripura Transport Minister Manik Dey told Media. "The state government would soon start work for acquisition of required 67 acres land," he said, adding that the Agartala-Akhaura railway project would provide a major boost to development and economy of northeastern India and eastern Bangladesh.
"India's external affairs ministry would provide necessary funds for the Bangladesh portion of the Agartala-Akhaura rail project," he said.
The 1,613-km mountainous route distance between Agartala and Kolkata via Guwahati-New Jalpaiguri-Kishanganj (Bihar)-Malda would be reduced to only 514-km once the new rail track is linked through Bangladesh. The state-owned Indian Railway Construction Company (IRCON) has been nominated to act as technical advisor for Bangladesh portion and to execute the work in Indian portion.
The NFR General Manager Jaggi said that the Indian government had announced it would 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. On the Indian side, some portion of the track would be elevated to avoid farm land and habitations. 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.
Currently, India and Bangladesh have four rail links with West Bengal. The existing railway line from Guwahati passes through Lumding in Nagaon district (in central Assam) and southern Assam connecting Agartala and parts of Manipur and Mizoram with the rest of India.
The Guwahati-Silchar railway line is the lifeline for southern Assam comprising four districts - Cachar, Karimganj, Hailakandi, Dima Hasao district, known as Barak Valley, and the mountainous states of Tripura, Manipur and Mizoram, which are heavily dependent on this line for supply of foodgrain, fertilisers, petroleum products, construction materials and other commodities besides ferrying passengers.
The 437-km Lumding-Silchar and Badarpur-Agartala gauge conversion work was sanctioned in 1996 and had completed earlier this year. After India's independence, Agartala was the first state capital to come up on the rail map (metre gauge line) in October 2008.