Representational image of construction work on the Indian Railways | Photo: ANI
Representational image of construction work on the Indian Railways | Photo: ANI
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New Delhi: Addressing the nation from the ramparts of Red Fort on India’s 75th Independence Day Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that the capitals of India’s northeastern states will soon be connected by rail.

“Today, we are in the process of writing a new history as far as connectivity to the northeast is concerned. This connectivity is both between hearts and infrastructure. Very soon the job of connecting the capital cities of the northeastern states by rail will be completed,” Modi said.

The government has set 2024 as the deadline.

Currently, all northeastern states barring Sikkim are connected through rail. While capitals of Assam, Tripura, and Arunachal Pradesh are already connected, work to extend similar connectivity in Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Meghalaya are underway.

The Railway Board had, however, made a similar announcement last July too — the initiative has been part of the Modi government’s Look East policy focusing on all-round development of the region.

Former Railway Board chairman Arunendra Kumar told ThePrint that this project has been a long time in the making. “It’s a demanding project and an engineering feat. Wherever railways go, development follows. The aim is to try to connect not just capitals of the states but also second-tier cities,” he said.

On the deadline that has been set for this project and possible hurdles, Kumar stressed that “the question is about commitment, technology, and funds — and there is no lack of that. All these things will factor in the time it will take for this project to be completed.”

While Kumar does not count land acquisition as a hurdle in the completion of this project, another former Railway board chairman, V.K. Yadav, holds a different opinion. “Most of the projects are going on well, but there were land issues in some states which were being sorted between the Centre and state government. Since it’s a linear project, even a small area of land that may not be available could pose an issue,” he told ThePrint.

Since 2014, when the Modi government came to power for the first time, “funds are not the issue,” he added.

Earlier this year, Union Railways Minister Piyush Goyal had written to chief ministers of 14 states requesting them to expedite the process of land acquisition on priority. “The expansion of the rail network in the northeast region was one of the priority areas for the Centre,” Goyal had said.

Meghalaya CM Conrad Sangma, for instance, was requested to expedite the Tetelia-Byrnihat and Byrnihat-Shillong projects which were in limbo due to law and order issues.

Also read: How Indian Railways is trying to meet oxygen demand across states

270 km of the New Line added since 2014

Since the Modi government came to power in 2014, 270 km of the New Line, 972 km of Gauge Conversion and 114 km of Doubling that fall either fully or partly in the North Eastern Region (NER) have been commissioned at an average rate of 193.71 km per year — 94 per cent more than the average commissioning during 2009-14, a written answer to Lok Sabha questions submitted this monsoon session has revealed.

As of April this year, 20 projects with an expenditure of Rs 74,485 crore covering 2,011 km are in various stages of completion in NER. These projects include 14 New Line Projects covering a length of 1,181 km at a cost of Rs 56,553 crore — including coverage of 253 km that has been commissioned at a cost of Rs 23,994 crore.

Of the 20 commissioned projects, six are Doubling Projects 830 km long, amounting to Rs17,932 crore — out of which a length of 68 km has been commissioned and an expenditure of Rs 2,880 crore has been incurred till March this year.

(Edited by Paramita Ghosh)

Also read: Maharashtra to Tripura — Kisan Rail is helping Indian farmers deliver, even in a pandemic


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