It is the fourth time that the NFR missed the deadline for completion of the national project, the foundation for which was laid way back in 1996. First, the authorities announced that the project would be completed in 2006, then 2009, 2012, 2013 and now 2015. The NFR authorities faced severe criticism by locals of Barak Valley for the continued inordinate delay in the project, which is considered the lifeline of southern Assam, Tripura, Mizoram and parts of Manipur.
The meeting was held at Haflong circuit house at the instance of Assam PHE minister Gautom Roy. Assam minister of state for excise and sports Ajit Singh was also present at the meeting besides senior railway officials.
The NFR chief engineer told the meeting that the progress of the project is satisfactory. He said the longest tunnel in the section is tunnel No. 10 with a length of 3,235 metre of which 1,850 metre has been completed. Work from both sides of the tunnel is on. Another major tunnel, No. 7, has a length of 1,687 metre of which 971.5 metre has been completed, he added. Pandit said work on 10 tunnels of a total of 17 on this route has so far been completed.
The NFR will take up the "mega block" on this route in September, 2014 and the project is set to be commissioned by the middle of 2015, he said.
Explaining the reasons for deadline being pushed back again, Pandit said from 1996 to 2006 there was a severe funds crunch. Following that, between 2006 and 2009, the project was hit by militancy in Dima Hasao, through which the railway route runs. "During the period, a total of 70 workers engaged the broad gauge project were killed by militants and another eight were abducted. The environment was not fit for progress of the project," said Pandit.
He also informed that the NFR is yet to get clearance from the department of environment and forest for work on one of the major bridges under the project.
PHE minister Roy took stock of the progress of the project and visited some work sites including tunnel No 10. ABCI Infrastructures Pvt Ltd, which is responsible for construction of the longest tunnel on the route, is under fire for alleged poor quality of work and the delay.
Roy expressed satisfaction over progress of the tunnel and the project as a whole.
The Lumding-Silchar-Jiribam-Badarpur-Kumarghat gauge conversion project (Lumding-Silchar is 214km), which is 368.46-km long, was sanctioned in 1996-97. The Rs 4,073.50-crore project was declared a national project in 2004.