Assam set for protests over delayed rail projects

July 6th, 2008 - 2:02 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
By Sujit Chakraborty
Silchar (Assam), July 6 (IANS) Political parties and pressure groups in southern Assam’s Barak Valley have announced a series of agitational programmes demanding expansion of railway lines and protesting delay in ongoing rail projects. “People are getting restive following the prolonged delay and indifference towards implementation of vital projects along with the expansion of railway lines,” said Rupam Nandi Purkayastha, president of the All Cachar-Karimganj-Hailakandi Students’ Association (ACKHSA).

The foundation stone for the 201-km Lumding-Silchar gauge conversion project was laid in 1996 by former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda and work was supposed to be over by 2006.

The gauge conversion project was declared a national project by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and is considered as the lifeline for southern Assam, Tripura, Mizoram and parts of Manipur.

The ACKHSA, along with the All Dimasa Students’ Union (ADSU), has been jointly spearheading a campaign for expediting the railway projects since last month. The leaders of ACKHSA and ADSU last week met Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar and Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga to seek their support in launching a mass movement.

As part of their agitational programme, the two organisations supported by Left parties, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and other parties have called a 12-hour shutdown on Aug 8 in southern Assam comprising Cachar, Karimganj, Hailakandi and North Cachar hills districts.

Purkayastha and ADSU president Prafulla Hafila said they would organise protest demonstrations at the Boat club in New Delhi during the next session of parliament in August.

The two associations will also organise a sit-in demonstration in Guwahati during the monsoon session of the Assam assembly next week.

Early completion of the East-West corridor and restoration of the Karimganj (southern Assam)-Sylhet (Bangladesh) railway line are their other demands.

“The Centre had decided to convert all metre gauge lines to broad gauge lines in India and allocated Rs.45 billion in 1993 for the purpose, but nothing was allocated for the conversion of the Lumding-Silchar metre gauge line to broad gauge line,” said Basudeb Acharya, chairman of the railways parliamentary standing committee.

Lok Sabha MP from Tripura, Khagen Das told IANS: “In the 201-km Lumding-Silchar rail line, there are 130 big bridges, 654 small bridges and 10,480 metres of tunnels and only about 30 percent work on the entire project was completed.

“If work goes on at this pace, the project cannot be completed even by 2011.”

According to the Northeast Frontier Railway, so far 50 people, including construction workers and Railway Protection Force (RPF) personnel have been killed by militants in southern Assam after the Lumding-Silchar gauge conversion project was undertaken.

“Militancy and acquiring of land besides shortage of funds are the main problems for the gauge conversion project,” a Northeast Frontier railway official said on condition of anonymity.

The Northeast Frontier railway authorities suspended train services in the Lumding-Badarpur Section May 15 and also evacuated about 1,200 railway staff from 13 railway stations of the NC Hills district following the spurt in violence by the Dima Halam Daogah (Jewel faction), also known as Black Widow.

The construction companies have estimated a loss of about Rs.500 million during April-May due to the spurt in insurgency.

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