Regional connectivity will also benefit Bangladeshi businessmen
India remains far behind in implementing the South Asian regional connectivity projects, with Tripura district authorities still to acquire the land for the Akhaura-Agartala railway link after a wait of seven years.
The Rs963 crore project was finalised in January 2010 when Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina signed a bilateral agreement with then Indian PM Manmohan Singh during a visit to New Delhi.
Six years then elapsed before railway ministers from the two countries laid the foundation stone of the project in May 2016.
Once operational, the new 15-kilometre link will connect Agartala in Tripura with Akhaura in Chittagong division, completing an uninterrupted line to Kolkata in West Bengal and cutting the travelling distance from 1,615km to only 514km.
It will allow Bangladeshi businessmen to ship goods to Kolkata and other parts of India much faster as they will no longer face the long detour through Assam, which is often niche to activities of Bodos and other tribal insurgents.
They will also avoid the narrow “chicken’s neck” corridor near Siliguri, which is acknowledged to be the weakest link between India and its northeast states.
Tripura district authorities have only recently received funds from Union Government for launching the acquisition work in India. Nearly Rs100 crore will be available to acquire the land needed for the five kilometres of broad gauge track which will run through India into eastern Bangladesh.
During the first phase, around 250 families were relocated and compensated to enable the transfer of 66 acres of land to the Indian railways. Of the 66 acres, only five acres is owned by the Tripura state government.
In Bangladesh, 70 acres of land is required for further construction.
The Akhaura-Agartala link will become a part of the ambitious Trans-Asian Railway project.
There will also be new road links, with approval gained for a Rs1,630 crore project to renew 65km of highway linking Imphal, the capital of Manipur, with Moreh at the Myanmar border.
Nitin Gadkari, the union minister for road transport, shipping and highways, said: “Travellers from Bangladesh will benefit, too. Once the road is built, Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia can be accessed [via road].”
The Asian Development Bank has also funded parts of the Asian Highway 1 project. Once operational, the new highway will help boost trade, commerce and tourism in the region.