Rail officials of Bangladesh and India sit today in Dhaka to work out a plan to implement the Akhaura-Agartala rail link, which will allow Delhi to connect with its seven north-eastern states.
India’s rail officials say that Delhi is moving for rapid implementation of their much-sought rail link which the two neighbours believe will open up a new era of business opportunities and people-to-people contact in the region.
However, Bangladesh railway officials say the link, which Delhi had pursued since 1972 to shorten its route of access to its landlocked seven-sister states using Bangladesh territory, will take at least two years.
In its bid to see the link established, the Indian government had already provided over $60.3m as aid to the project. The rail link will allow India to use the Bangladesh Railway to transport cargo from Chittagong port to the seven-sisters.
Bangladesh Railway’s additional director general for operations, Amzad Hossain, told the Dhaka Tribune Sunday: “On Tuesday, the project’s steering committee [comprising of Bangladeshi and Indian joint-secretary level officials] will sit to finalise the modus operandi [mode of operation] of the project.
“We all want to expedite the project’s implementation. Hopefully, we can finish it within the next two years.”
The rail official added that the meeting targets to work out tendering procedures and other related issues.
The deal to build the 20km rail link between Akhaura and Indian state Tripura’s capital, Agartala, was signed on February 16 by Bangladesh’s Economic Relations Division Secretary Abul Kalam Azad and Indian High Commissioner to Dhaka Pankaj Saran.
The connectivity after its implementation would allow India to cut down its 1500km-haul from the mainland to the north-eastern states through the Siliguri corridor to a mere 200km-link using Bangladesh.
Former director general of Bangladesh Railway, TA Chowdhury, told the Dhaka Tribune that the project would fetch foreign currency for Bangladesh Railway.
“At present, the Indian Railway link between the seven sisters and the mainland is about 1,500 kilometers. If implemented, the Akhaura-Agartala rail link will reduce the distance to only 200 kilometers,” said Chowdhury, who was one of negotiators for the project.
Akhaura was the major link between Chittagong port and Tripura prior to the partition of India in 1947. However, the partition snapped the link as Akhaura fell into the then East Pakistan.
Former ambassador Humayun Kabir told Dhaka Tribune that India would ‘tremendously be benefitted’ from the project. “They (India) can unload their products in the Chittagong port (from Kolkata or Mumbai) and carry to Agartala which is connected with other six states. It will reduce the cost of business,” said Kabir.
“In future it will also connect Bangladesh and India with the Southeast Asia through Myanmar-Thailand link,” he said.
Dr Delwar Hossain, a professor of International Relations at Dhaka University, told the Dhaka Tribune that the rail link, if sustained, would be ‘one of the factors for greater integration of India as far as regional connectivity is concerned’.
He said, “Again, it will certainly increase business activities and development in its north-eastern states”.
“With this new rail link Tripura would become the second state in India to be connected through rail link with Bangladesh. West Bengal is the only state which is connected at present,” said an Indian high commission statement on the project. At present, Bangladesh railway directly connects Dhaka and Kolkata through Darsana.
“It will provide access to Tripura through Bangladesh and the other north-eastern States of India and will open up new market in these States for goods manufactured in Bangladesh.”
This link would also be vital for the Trans – Asian Railway Network (TAR), of which both India and Bangladesh are members. As part of TAR, India has been constructing a 350km rail link from Jiribam (India) to Moreh (Myanmar)—a link Bangladesh can be benefitted from.