SILCHAR, Nov 30: From Indira Gandhi to Dr Manmohan Singh –– nine prime ministers –– and from Abdul Gani Khan Choudhury to Mamata Banerjee –– eight railway ministers of India –– all stand witness to what may be called “a sort of experimentation with busy projects” of the Railway, one of which is the Silchar-Lumding Broad Gauge (BG) project.
The project lies incomplete even though the project was declared a national project by Dr Manmohan Singh in presence of former Railway Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav.
The Silchar-Lumding BG is essential for connecting Barak Valley, Tripura, Mizoram and Manipur with the rest of the country. But the Northeast continues to be neglected by the Centre, observers said as several railway projects lie in limbo.
A glaring instance of the negligence of the Centre is the Jiribam-Tupul (Imphal) BG link, the foundation stone of which was laid by Dr Manmohan Singh along with Lalu Prasad Yadav, sources said. The construction on this project is yet to gain momentum. Moreover, the Bhairobi-Aizawl rail head extension has also not taken any shape and the project to link Itanagar is gathering dust, the sources added.
After a series of violent sprouts by militant groups in the NC Hills, normalcy has been restored in the hill district. But even after the situation has cooled down, the NF Railway has not begun work on the Silchar-Lumding BG route yet.
On the other hand, the railway website claims completion of 40 per cent work of the project, whereas Barak Valley Council president Kishore Bhattacharjee said only 25 per cent of the project has been completed till now.
According to reports, the Silchar-Lumding BG project was mooted in 1983 and Rs 600 crore was estimated as its cost. The project was supposed to link Silchar with Lanka, diverting the route from Sukritipur in order to avoid the hilly and rough terrain of NC Hills. The existing MG route was left undisturbed which runs via Haflong but the project was shelved mysteriously. Gani Khan Choudhury was the then Railway Minister and since there was no people’s representative from the Northeast to pursue the matter with him, it might have been shelved, reports added.
Thereafter, when Rajiv Gandhi became the Prime Minister and Madhao Rao Scindhia the Railway Minister, NF Railway officials conducted a press meet and informed mediapersons that the MG route would be converted into BG with necessary technical modifications. The estimated cost of the project was Rs 654 crore but this too was discarded without any clarification from the Railway Ministry.
Slowly the political nexus to sabotage the BG link became clear and various student, youth and social organizations staged agitation demanding the completion of the project.
All this pressure exerted by the agitating masses compelled the then Prime Minister Deve Gowda and Railway Minister Ram Vilas Paswan to come here to lay the foundation stone of the BG project in 1997 and they also assured that the project would be completed by 2002.
On the other hand, in 2004, Dr Manmohan Singh while laying the foundation stone of the Jiribum-Tupul link said that the Silchar-Lumding link would be completed by 2010. And now, with the credibility lost on assurances for shifting target dates for completion of the BG project from 2002 to 2010, the only question now being asked by people here is “Will Mamata Banerjee come cracking down to break the jinx?” THE SENTINEL