Friday, December 6, 2013

Political Crisis in Bangladesh to hit Indo-Bangla Railway Link project

Dhaka:  The current political turmoil in Bangladesh is likely to delay the execution of a new rail link between India and its neighbour, officials said Wednesday. “At a meeting in Dhaka Tuesday, the Bangladesh railway ministry officials indicated that it was difficult for them to complete the necessary survey and to start the actual work before the Jan 5 general elections,” a top Indian railway official, who did not want to be named, told IANS.
“However, the Bangladesh railway ministry would start the initial work and prepare the DPP (detailed project proposal) by February next year,” the official added. The steering committee of the Agartala-Akhaurah railway project had met to discuss early completion of the 15-km railway link. The 8 member Indian delegation was led by joint secretary in the railways ministry, A.K.Sinha, while the Bangladesh side was headed by joint secretary (development and infrastructure), railways, Sunil Chandra Paul. Tripura’s Transport Secretary Kishore Ambuly, who was also a member of the Indian delegation, said that the Northeast Frontier Railways (NFR) would lay the 15-km railway line on both sides of the border and IRCON (Indian Railway Construction Company) would be the project’s consultant. Earlier, it was planned that IRCON would construct the new railway lines.  While five kms of the track would be laid by IRCON, the remaining 10 km track would be constructed by the Bangladesh Rail as decided in a bilateral meeting held in Dhaka on Tuesday. Earlier, it was decided that the entire rail link would be laid by IRCON at an estimated cost of Rs 386 crore. However, the Tuesday meeting decided that Bangladesh Rail authority will undertake the construction work in its territory.  While briefing the media, Transport Secretary Kishore Ambuly said the land acquisition process from Agartala (India) to Gangasagar (Bangladesh) is expected to get completed by December itself. After completion of the land acquisition, a Detailed Project Proposal (DPP) would be sent to the competent authority for the final nod, he said adding that the actual work would begin by February next.  Though he did not say anything on the recent unrest in Bangladesh, there are apprehensions that the project might get delayed due to the political uncertainty in the neighbouring country.
“It was also decided that by February next year the Bangladesh railway authority and IRCON would separately prepare the detailed project proposals (DPR) before starting the actual work,” Ambuly told IANS. The next meeting of the steering committee would be held in Agartala in March next year. The new rail link would connect Agartala, one of the newest stations of the Indian Railways which came up on the country’s rail map in October 2008, with Bangladesh’s southeastern city of Akhaurah – an important railway junction connected to Chittagong port, resource-rich Sylhet and Dhaka. It would ease ferrying of goods to mountainous northeastern states from the rest of India and abroad via Bangladesh. Surface connectivity is an important factor as the landlocked northeastern states are surrounded by Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan and China and the only land route to these states from within India is through Assam and West Bengal. But this route passes through hilly terrain with steep roads and multiple hairpin bends. For ferrying goods and heavy machinery to the northeast from abroad and other parts of the country, India has for long been seeking land, sea and rail access through Bangladesh. Agartala, for instance, is 1,650 km from Kolkata and 2,637 km from New Delhi via Guwahati and West Bengal, whereas the distance between the Tripura capital and Kolkata through Bangladesh is just about 350 km. The agreement for the new railway line, which will lie five km in Indian territory and the rest in Bangladesh, was signed between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina during her visit to India in January 2010. “Preliminary survey and alignment of the railway tracks have been completed. We expect the work for the vital railway line would start first part of next year,” said Ambuly, who returned here Wednesday. “The total cost of the proposed project is estimated at Rs.253 crore. The entire expenditure would be borne by the Indian government,” the official added. The NFR is now laying tracks to connect Tripura’s southern-most border town – Sabroom, 135 km south of here. From Sabroom, Chittagong port is just 72 km.

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