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EDITORIAL

Railways in the Northeast

Railways

 

While the history of railways in Assam and Northeastern India is just three years short of completing a century and a half, it is only in the past few years that construction of new railway tracks and other infrastructure have actually become visible to the common people. Opening of the Badarpur-Agartala line, the Harmuti-Naharlagun line, the Dudhnoi-Mendipathar line, the Agartala-Belonia line, the Silchar-Jiribam line, and the Dibrugarh-Bogibeel-Lakhimpur line have already caused visible positive impact on the socio-economic environment of the Northeastern region. With the commissioning of the Bogibeel rail-cum-road bridge, Dibrugarh and Tinsukia now have an alternative route from Guwahati. It has also made railway travel possible, and that too taking very little time, between Dibrugarh/Tinsukia and Lakhimpur/Dhemaji, apart from bringing the eastern districts of Arunachal Pradesh closer to Itanagar, the state capital. Doubling of tracks from Guwahati and Lumding – about 147 km – is almost complete, which will now reduce travel time and facilitate smoother running of trains. Two new projects which the Assam government and the state’s MPs should push for are the 99-km Salona-Khumtai line and the 62-km Jorhat-Sivasagar lines. These two lines will reduce distance and time between Guwahati and Dibrguarh by taking the train directly from Guwahati to Nagaon/Haibargaon, and then to Khumtai, Jorhat, Sivasagar and Moran before reaching Dibrugarh. Likewise, the MPs of the Northeast should jointly push for the 170-km Bongaigaon-Goalpara-Guwahati double-tracking and New Bongaigaon-Rangiya Kamakhya double-tracking, because these, once completed, will not only drastically cut down travel time, but also make things cheaper as most items would then be transported by trains and not by trucks. While the 52-km Bairabi-Sairang project, which is about 60 per cent complete, will put Aizawl on the railway network, the status of progress of the 88-km Dimapur-Zubza line that will put Kohima on the railway map is very poor. Three other major projects – the 257-km Dimapur-Tizit line, the 26-km Murkongselek-Pasighat line and the 108-km Byrnihat-Shillong line – are all standing at ‘zero’ progress, and require urgent intervention of the respective state governments of Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya. The worst case, however, has been the 21.5-km Tetelia-Byrnihat project, where work has remained stalled because of two major reasons – some organizations of Meghalaya fear that the railway line would facilitate entry of illegal migrants to the State, and some cases of land acquisition are lying in the High Court after some people allegedly constructed some buildings on land for which the Railways had already paid compensation. It is good that Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has allocated Rs 6,590 crore for railway projects in the Northeast. What the people would like to look forward include – (a) frequent visit of the Union Railway Minister and Union Finance Minister to the region and particularly looking into the on-going and proposed railway projects, (b) frequent raising of the railway issues in Parliament and before the Centre by the region’s state governments and MPs, and, most importantly (c) stopping all kinds of extortion, donation and corruption in the on-going projects.