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Finally, Sikkim railway project on track

October 30, 2009

Jayanta Gupta, TNN
Times of India
October 29, 2009 

KOLKATA (TNN) -- Better late than never. Work on
laying broad-gauge railway tracks between Sevoke
in Bengal and Rangpo in Sikkim is expected to
finally start in the next few days. The detailed
survey report was submitted to the ministry of
railways early in 2008 and work was expected to
start later that year. Now at last, the railway
minister is going to lay the foundation stones at
both Sevoke and Rangpo on Friday.

"This stretch will be of great significance. Not
only will Sikkim be a part of the country's
railway map for the first time in history, it
will also be the beginning of a long term plan to
take the railway network up to Gangtok and
beyond. This is part of the strategy to build
infrastructure along the Indo-China border.
Movement of both men and material will become
much easier once railway tracks have been laid,"
a senior official from Delhi said.

China has already created infrastructure both
road and rail in Tibet. This has been a matter of
concern for Delhi as Indian troops have to solely
depend upon an unreliable road network to travel
to forward posts. After Gangtok is linked by
rail, travel time for Indian forces and equipment
can be cut down to a great extent.

The estimated cost of the 52.7 km stretch between
Sevoke and Rangpo is Rs 1,335 crore. The plan
outlay for 2009-10 is Rs 10 crore. Of the total
stretch, 51.7 km will be in West Bengal and the
remaining 1 km in Sikkim. At a later stage, the
line will be extended for another 40 km up to
Gangtok. The first phase up to Rangpo is expected
to be completed by 2015. The final location
survey contract has already been awarded.

There are some who believe that laying of tracks
along this stretch will come in for resistance
from environmental groups. The National Highways
Authority of India had started construction of a
41-km stretch on NH31A from the Sikkim-West
Bengal border to Gangtok. This was part of
Phase-A of the Special Accelerated Road
Development Programme in North Eastern region.
This project attracted the ire of environmentalists.

"Environmentalists will have to be more rational.
On one hand, the country is concerned about
infrastructure build-up in Tibet. This will only
be possible on the Indian side if road and rail
networks are constructed. Proper care will
certainly be taken to ensure there is no
far-reaching affect on the environment. Similar
projects have been planned elsewhere in the North
East. Not only will these be of strategic
importance to the country, they will also result
in overall development of backward regions," the official added. 
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