After suffering from scarcity of funds and challenging law and order situation for about two decades, India Railways' expansion in the North East is finally gaining some momentum. Three out of the five key railway projects, identified by the Prime Minister’s office as ‘critical’ for the North East, near their completion.
The ones about to be completed include the first rail connectivity to Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh along with crucial gauge conversion between Rangpara to North Lakhimpur which will connect Arunachal Pradesh to the rest of the country. The three projects cost a total of more than Rs 3,000 crore. “Our deadlines for the first rail connectivity to Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh are set at March 2014, and we will achieve it this time," said a Railway Board official.
The North East region bordering China is strategically important for India but lack of funds and adverse law and order situation have kept it infrastructure starved. Officials in the Department of North East Region, however, pointed out development of the North East found a special mention in the XI and XII Plan. "This has helped in fastracking projects in the region."
Dudhnoi-Mendhipathar, a 20 km line in Meghalaya in the Garo hills, costing about Rs 180 crore has been in works for good two decades. Announced in the budget of 1992-93, the line faced several hurdles. “There was severe law and order problem. Railway officials had been kidnapped in the past. Locals resisted fearing that with rail connectivity, illegal immigrants would settle here. Things have improved, but we have to be careful,” said a senior official at North East Frontier Railway.
Officials also said the work on ground was in full swing. Land acquisition for the line was complete. Three major bridges on the line have also been completed along with 50 minor bridges needed on the hilly terrain. “It’s a tough terrain that we are working on,” said another official closely linked with the project.
Harmati-Naharlagun, another 20 km line in Arunachal Pradesh, announced way back in 1996-97, would cost railways about Rs 407 crore. The line would also have its first run in March 2014. It was identified as a line crucial to the national security in the last Railway budget because of the presence of Chinese Railway on the state borders.
"China is heavily investing into domestic and trans-ASEAN network and India has failed to catch up to that. The importance of connectivity in the North-East is self evident; it’s our link to the ASEAN. The post 1962 war psychosis that if we build roads into the North-East it might be a way for potential security threat, is one that has to go away," says C. Uday Bhaskar, Fellow at the Society for Policy Studies, a Delhi based think tank.
“There are some high power lines crossing the Railway alignment, we have asked the Power grid corporation to realign them soon,” said a senior official at NEF Railway who also asserted that the Railways would complete the work on time on this line.
Gauge Conversion of Rangiya- Murkongselek ,a 510 km line, from meter gauge to broad gauge was declared a national project in 2007. Planned to be completed in three phases, 123 kilometer of the track work is already complete. PMO had identified the second phase, Rangpara to North Lakhimpur, 172 kilometer track to be completed on priority basis.
Tracks have been linked; station and yard works are in process. The target has been set at March, 2014. The project was announced in 2003-2004 and since then has faced the obvious troubles like lack of funds. Railway officials also stressed that there is also a dearth of good contractors in the region, along with frequent strikes that affect the execution of the work.
The ministry of finance had agreed to provide additional Rs 400 crore for the above three projects in July this year.
However, Railway officials in the NEF Railway highlighted the perpetual lack of funds that has stalled about 10 projects in the region ranging from new lines to the gauge conversion costing over Rs 20,000 crore.
“We got about Rs 2,400 crore from the Ministry of Railways this year, but the demand is about Rs 4500 a year. We have the capacity to increase the speed of the projects and expedite the completion,” said a senior Railway official at NEF Railway.
Two other crucial projects in the North East-Bogibeel bridge connecting the North and South Bank in Arunachal Pradesh, costing about Rs 4,500 crore is expected to be completed by 2016, but officials express their doubt by saying that it ‘depends on the availability of funds’. Similarly Lumdig-Silchar gauge conversion announced way back in 1996 might have to wait little longer for its completion.
Key railway projects in North East
|Name of the project||Length/Cost||Type||Current Status/ Deadline|
|1. Harmati- Naharlagun||20 KM/
Rs 407 crore
|First Rail Connectivity to Arunachal Pradesh||Overall progress about 80%. Complete Funds released for the project. March 2014|
|2. Dudhnoi-Mendipathar||20 KM/
Rs 176 crore
|Rail Connectivity to Meghalaya||Overall progress about 70%. All three major bridges on the line completed./March 2014|
|3. Rangapara-North Lakhimpur||510 km/
Rs 176 crore
|Gauge Conversion Project||About 80% of the construction work completed./March 2014|
|4. Lumdig-Silchar||482 KM/
Rs 4255 crore
|Gauge Conversion Project||About 80% of the construction work completed. Two key tunnels completed./2015-16|
|5. Bogibeel Bridge-Connecting the North and South Bank of Assam||Rs 4,500 crore||Bridge Construction||Expected to be completed in 2016. International companies involved in this project-German Ramboll-Consulting Engineering Group which is designing the project. L&T is also involved in the construction. Construction work in progress. About 50% of the funds released|