PMO overseeing India-Bangladesh rail project: Minister Sinha

Agartala, Jan 12 (IANS) The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) was directly supervising the new India-Bangladesh railway project in Tripura, Minister of State for Railways Manoj Sinha said here on Tuesday.

“Funding for the India-Bangladesh railway project would not be a problem as the PMO is directly overseeing the much expected project,” Sinha told reporters in Nishintipur village in Tripura along the India-Bangladesh border.

“The Indian government is according highest priority to the Agartala-Akhaura railway project that would automatically connect the rail network of both the countries. Land acquisition for laying the track between Agartala railway station and Akhaura railway junction has been completed.”

Accompanied by Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) general manager H.K. Jaggi and other officials of the ministry and IRCON (Indian Railway Construction Company), Sinha arrived here on Tuesday on a two-day visit to the northeastern state to supervise ongoing railway projects.

He met Chief Minister Manik Sarkar and discussed progress of various railway projects.

“Once completed, the Agartala-Akhaura railway project would provide a major boost to development and economy of the northeastern region of India and eastern Bangladesh. The project would boost Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Act East’ policy,” he said.

“We expect that the work for the new railway project would start early next financial year, beginning April,” he added.

The Agartala-Akhaura railway project was finalised in January 2010 when Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina met her then Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh during her visit to New Delhi.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi discussed the Rs.575-crore railway project with Hasina during his visit to Dhaka in June last year.

“No funds have been allocated so far for the Agartala-Akhaura rail project. We will begin work immediately after the sanction of funds,” said an NFR official, who accompanied the minister.

“Earlier, the DoNER ministry had committed to provide funds to lay tracks on the Indian side. But recently, it expressed its inability to give funds.

“The railway ministry was earlier considering providing funds for the Tripura part of the project, but has not taken a final decision yet,” the NFR official said on condition of anonymity.

The 1,650-km distance between Agartala and Kolkata would be reduced to only 550 km once the new rail track is linked through Bangladesh.

The Indian government had announced it will bear the entire cost of the 15-km railway project. Of the 15 km, 5 km fall in the Indian territory and the remaining in Bangladesh.

“The NITI Aayog had decided in a meeting in Delhi on June 18 to put in place the vital railway project between India and Bangladesh by December 2017,” Tripura’s transport secretary Samarjit Bhowmik told IANS.

Bhowmik, who attended the NITI Aayog meeting, said: “The alignment and other technicalities of laying the track to link the Agartala railway station with Bangladesh’s Akhaura railway station have been changed recently. A final report on the new alignment was also submitted for sanction of funds.”

Tripura’s Transport Minister Manik Dey recently held a meeting with Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu in Delhi and urged him to expedite issues related to the project.

“The railway minister told me that he would personnaly talk to the Railway Board and external affairs ministry about the funding of the project,” Dey told IANS.

“On the Indian side, some portion of the track is likely to be elevated,” the minister said.

The project’s cost was earlier estimated at Rs.271 crore. In addition, Rs.302 crore was needed to acquire around 97.6 acres of land in Tripura for laying the track.

“After the latest alignment of the project, now 72 acres of land would be required. Hence, to acquire land, the requirement of funds would be reduced to Rs.98 crore from Rs.302 crore,” Dey added.

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