Local groups in Meghalaya stall key railway projects demanding Inner Line Permit to prevent 'influx' of illegal migrants

The Indian Railways is pursuing its agenda to expand the network in the landlocked northeastern region in the right earnest in tune with the Centre’s thrust to improve surface communication in the region to achieve Act East Policy goals of consolidating ties with India's eastern neighbours. Several long-pending railway projects have been either commissioned or put on the roll in recent times much to the advantage of the NE people especially those from the frontier state of Tripura which is now connected with a Rajdhani Express too.

 Local groups in Meghalaya stall key railway projects demanding Inner Line Permit to prevent influx of illegal migrants

Representational image. AFP

However, efforts to expand the railway network to the hill state of Meghalaya has been stonewalled by unrelenting opposition from tribal NGOs led by Khasi Students’ Union (KSU) and Federation of Khasi Jaintia and Garo People (FKJGP) who are apprehensive that expansion of railway network into the state would compound the problem of ‘influx’ of illegal migrants.

These groups have been demanding that Meghalaya government must set up some entry and exit points to check movements of outsiders as well as introduce Inner Line Permit (ILP) in the state before allowing the railway network in. Negotiations between these groups and Meghalaya government have failed to resolve the impasse even though the incumbent Chief Minister Conrad Sangma maintains that railway is required for rapid growth of the hill state.

The rigid stand of the KSU and the FKJGP against resumption of the now-stalled work on the Meghalaya portion of the Tetelia (in Assam)-Byrnihat (in Meghalaya) new  railway line project not only has derailed Northeast Frontier Railway’s plan to complete the rail track on time but also created uncertainty over the utilisation of funds allotted during 2018-19.

An NF Railway official says that opposition by local groups to the resumption of work in the project in Meghalaya brings in elements of uncertainty over timely completion as well as utilisation of funds, a major portion of which have to be returned to the Central government if the project work does not resume in the near future.

Till date, the project has made an overall physical progress of 52.47 percent with an expenditure of Rs 474.36 crore made till 31 March, 2018. Of an allocation of Rs 150 crore for the financial year, 2018-19, Rs 45.14 crore has been incurred till 31 May, 2018. Now with the project hanging fire, the remaining portion of the fund is likely to go unutilised and have to be returned. The NF Railway officials had a meeting with the Meghalaya chief minister last week to apprise him about the urgency for the resumption of work in the railway line project.

Because of the unrelenting opposition of local tribal organisations against the railway project in Meghalaya, there has been a delay after several starts and stops since the Rs 1,400 crore project was sanctioned in 2009-10. The work has remained stalled since May last year in the wake of protests by the students’ union turning violent at the construction site in Byrnihat. A temporary security barrack has now been constructed at the site by Meghalaya Police.

The Tetelia-Byrnihat project will have two stations (Kamalajari and Byrnihat), six tunnels with a length of 3.432km, seven major bridge and 48 minor bridges. A length of 19.25km of the track is in Assam while 2.25km is in Meghalaya. Had the work could be resumed immediately the project would have been completed by March 2020.

On the status of the project at Byrnihat, the official said about 85 percent work was yet to be completed. This includes two tunnels and a viaduct alongside a playground at Byrnihat. The presence of hard rock requires blasting and other allied works and these works take time.

The KSU and FKJGP have remained adamant on their stand that they would continue to oppose the project until the Meghalaya government put in place a strong mechanism to curb the influx of migrants to the state. The groups are not satisfied with District Task Forces constituted by the state government to check infiltration of illegal migrants.

Another railway project is yet to take off in Meghalaya because of the same reasons. Byrnihat-Shillong new line project was included in the Railway Budget 2010-11. The total length of the project is 108.4 km, entire length falling in Meghalaya. The detailed estimate for the cost of Rs 1,202.33 crore (up to 19.10 km) was sanctioned in March 2017. The project could not be started yet due to opposition from local groups.

Meanwhile, railway projects in other states of the region are progressing with no opposition from local people. In Arunachal Pradesh, the railway has completed Harmuti-Naharlagun project while work is in progress in Murkongselek-Pasighat new line project. The project was included in the Railway Budget 2011-12. The total length of the project is 26.15 km out of which 2.6 km falls in Assam and 24.36 km falls in Arunachal Pradesh. The detail estimated cost of Rs 414.84 crore was sanctioned in June 2016. The land acquisition process is underway in respect of this project in consultation with the governments of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.

The railway has completed survey work in respect of Margherita-Deomali (31 km) and Lekhapani and Kharsang (25 km) new line projects. While survey is in progress in eight other new line projects: Dhalaibeel-Itakhola-Seijosa (18 km), Naharkatia-Deomali  (20 km), Lekhapani-Nampong-New Khamlang-Deban (75 km), Dangri-Roing (60 km), Tinsukia (Longpatia)–Pasighat (300 km), Dumduma–Wakro (96 km), Pasighat–Tezu-Parsuramkund-Rupai (227 Km), Misamari (Bhalukpong)-Tenga-Twang (378 km) and North Lakhimpur–Bame (Along) –Silapathar (249 km).

The railway has not faced any hurdle from the public in respect of its numerous projects in Assam where the country’s longest rail-cum-road bridge over the Brahmaputra river at Bogibeel connecting Dibrugarh in South Bank to North bank of the river is verging on completion now.

This Bogibeel project was included in Railway Budget 1997-98 and the project was declared as a national project in May 2007. The total length of the project is 73 km and the entire length falls in Assam.

The railway is undertaking three projects in Nagaland: Dimapur–Kohima (Dhansiri–Zubza) new line project, Amguri–Naginimora (30.60 km) and Furkating–Baghty Valley (47.40 km). The survey work in these projects is at various stages now.

The railway has completed its long pending projects in Tripura which is now connected with rest of the country through direct trains to metropolitan cities like New Delhi, Kolkata and Bengaluru thereby fulfilling long-pending demands of the people of the state who earlier had no other option but to undertake arduous and hazardous bus journey to Guwahati to travel out of the region.

As on date work in progress in Agartala–Sabroom (112 km) project which was included in Railway Budget 2008-09. The detailed estimate for the cost of Rs 1,141.75 crore was sanctioned in November 2010. This work is targeted to be completed in December 2020.

The Agartala–Akhaura project was included in Railway Budget 2012-13. The total length of the project is 15.064 km, 5.05 km falling in Tripura and balance 10.014 km in Bangladesh. The detailed estimate for the cost of Rs 569.63 crore (Indian portion) was sanctioned in March 2018. This work is targeted to be completed in March 2021. The railway has already completed Kumarghat–Agartala (107.35 km) project.

In Mizoram, Bairabi-Sairang (51.38 km) is in progress. The detailed estimate for the cost of Rs 2,393.48 crore was sanctioned in September 2009. This work is targeted to be completed in December 2020. Meanwhile, Katakhal–Bairabi (84 km) gauge conversion project was completed in the state.

In Manipur, Jiribam-Tupul-Imphal (110.6 Km) was included in Railway Budget 2003-04. The detailed estimate for the cost of Rs 4,454.17 crore was sanctioned in September 2009. This work was targeted to be completed in March 2013 but could not be completed. The revised estimate for Rs 13,809 crore is under preparation.

The Jiribam-Vangaichungpao (11.80 km) was commissioned in March last year while Vangaichungpao-Kaimai-Kambiron(24.30 km) is expected to be completed in 2018-19. The Kambiron-Hauchung-Imphal (74.09 km) is expected to be completed in 2021-22.

Updated Date: Sep 25, 2018 15:14:51 IST