Jayanth Jacob & Srinand Jha, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, February 19, 2011 Email to Author
Land acquisition politics in poll-bound West Bengal is derailing the first India-Bhutan rail link project. The project, laced with strategic, business and symbolic underpinnings, was expected to be completed in 2013. With a host issues plaguing the project — announced by Prime Minister M anmohan Singh while addressing the Bhutan parliament in May 2008 — New Delhi is mulling the over an alternative route.
The 17.5-km railway line starting from Hasimara in West Bengal going through Satali, Bharna Bari and Dalsingpara to Toribari in Bhutan was named to mark the golden jubilee of the visit of India’s first PM Jawaharlal Nehru to the Himalayan kingdom in 1958.
The rail link, which was keeping in mind China’s push to rail network in South Asia, is now stuck in a web of land acquisition politics.
Technical and feasibility studies by the Railways estimated around 3,000 families will have to be resettled for the link. Tea estate owners and workers in the area protested the project.
The state government also expressed concerns as the railway line has to pass through the elephant corridor of North Bengal, like Dalsingpara, near Jaigaon forests.
The land acquisition agitation started by Mamataa Banerjee is affecting the project too, as the Bengal government is not keen on getting into issues involving land. “Unless we sort out the land issue forward movement is not possible. We have updated all these developments to the Bhutan side,” said a government official.
Since 2005 feasibility studies for various links to Bhutan have been studied — Hasimara (West Bengal) to Phuentsholing; Kokrajhar (Assam) to Gelephu; Pathsala (Assam) to Nanglam; Rangiya (Assam) to Samdrupjongkhar; and Banarhat (West Bengal) to Samtse.
Some officials say an alternate plan will only lead to more resettlements. “Toribari is close to Phuentsholing, the major trade point. Phuentsholing was the original plan, and Toribar was found on Bhutan government’s request. We are keen on alternative route to get the project off,” said an official.