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India’s NE strategic rail link to LAC with China gathers pace, plans to connect 8 capitals too

Mooted by Army in 2010-11, the plan is to connect key border areas including that in Arunachal, Manipur & Sikkim through railways. Bhalukpong-Tawang line is of particular importance.

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New Delhi: India has completed the final location survey of three strategic railway lines in the Northeast that aims to help the military push its men and equipment faster into the border areas, especially in Arunachal Pradesh, along China, ThePrint has learnt.

These strategic railway lines, which will be completed over the next one decade, will add to the extensive network of highways that are already being built.

The plan, first mooted by the Army in 2010-11 requiring investment of several thousand crores, also aims to put many key border areas including that in Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Sikkim on the broad gauge rail map.

However, the key lines for which work was sped up are a 200 km broad gauge line between Bhalukpong to Tawang (Arunachal Pradesh), 87 km line between Silapathar (Assam) to Along via Bame (Arunachal Pradesh) and 217 km line between Rupai (Assam) to Pasighat (Arunachal Pradesh) which also has an advanced landing ground of the Indian Air Force.

All the three proposed railway lines are categorised as “strategic”, which means that the cost will be borne by both the  railways and defence ministries.

“The final location survey has been completed on these three lines, and the report has been submitted to the railway ministry,” Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) chief public relations officer Sabyasachi De told ThePrint.

A final location survey is done to decide the alignment of the rail line and location of stations. In railway parlance, the completion of the final location survey means the project is finally happening.

“The final location survey report is under consideration,” a senior railway ministry official told ThePrint.

Once the ministry clears the final location survey, the projects will be taken to the cabinet for approval. “It will then go off the drawing board,” said the official.

Sources in the defence establishment said the projects got a push because of the ongoing stand-off with China along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The Army was pushing for the strategic lines because it would help in the movement of soldiers and equipment, they said.

The Bhalukpong-Tawang line is one of the most important projects which will cater to the military’s wide needs in an area which has seen tensions rise with China, according to them.

The proposed line will see multiple tunnels and will be built at locations over 10,000 ft.

Both the highways projects and the strategic railway lines were mooted by the Army as part of its internal study on defence preparedness.

“It was in 2011-12 the Army worked to finalise the alignments of these lines. It was the Army’s push in 2012 that the railway line was upgraded up to Bhalukpong and recommenced operations from where the line to Tawang will commence,” a source said.

The Army was working closely with the NFR authorities and a lot of work was completed which helped both the military and the civilians living in the Northeast, the defence  sources said.

Going by statistics, between 2014 and 2022, a total of 893.82 km of track were converted to broad gauge, 386.84 km new lines added, 356.41 km double lines commissioned, and surveys of 1,578 km new lines were completed.

Fund allocation in the Northeast states was done to the tune of Rs 51,787 cr with average fund allocation per year in the last eight years is 254 per cent more than the yearly average fund allocation in 2009-14, according to NFR data.

Also Read: Expected next year: 3 strategic tunnels in J&K to boost security & connectivity, cut travel time

More railways lines being planned 

While the three strategic rail link projects where the final location survey is completed are all in Arunachal Pradesh, the NFR will also start work on another strategic rail line – 26 km long broad gauge track connecting Murkongselek, a village in Dhemaji, north Assam to Pasighat in Arunachal Pradesh.

“Though Assam and Arunachal Pradesh are presently connected by rail line, the Murkongselek-Pasighat line is strategic as it will facilitate movement of defence forces further inside Arunachal Pradesh,” a senior NFR official said.

Besides, the NFR is also undertaking a feasibility study to see if a broad gauge line to connect Kokrajhar in Assam to Gelephu in Bhutan (can be done),” a senior NFR official said.

Gelephu is on the Assam-Bhutan border and the proposal to provide rail connectivity between Assam and Bhutan has been on the pipeline for a while now.

The Indian Railways is also moving ahead with its plan to bring Sikkim on the rail map.

“While the final location survey is going on to decide the alignment of rail line and location of station between Rangpo and Sikkim’s capital Gangtok, a preliminary engineering-cum-traffic survey is also on to check if a strategic broad gauge line between Gangtok and Nathu La can come up,” the senior NFR official quoted earlier said.

Connecting all 8 Northeast capitals with rail line 

It’s not just the strategic rail links, as the railway ministry is also working to ensure that the capitals of all the 8 Northeast states are connected with a broad gauge line.

“While Guwahati (Assam), Itanagar (Arunachal Pradesh) and Agartala (Tripura) already are on the rail map, Kohima (Nagaland) will have a broad gauge line by 2026. Work is already at an advanced stage to connect Imphal (Manipur) and Aizawl (Mizoram) rail line. Both the lines will be ready by 2023,” De said.

Though Meghalaya is connected to the rail network, the NFR has not been able to make progress to connect its capital Shillong with a rail line because of protests by Khasi groups demanding Inner Line Permit in the state.

(Edited by Tony Rai)

Also Read: How Arunachal is front & centre in Modi govt’s massive border infra push to counter China


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