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Job demand halts rail plan

Behrampore, Aug. 17: A rail bridge on the Bhagirathi that will reduce travel time to north Bengal is lying unused for two years because residents on one side have refused to give up land, required to make approach tracks, if they don’t get railway jobs.

About seven acres need to be acquired on the western side of the bridge in Jiaganj. Sixty-four families live in the area.

The residents of Diar Mahinagar village in Jiaganj were offered a compensation of Rs 2.4 lakh for each acre of agricultural land. The compensation amount for land on which houses stand has not been fixed yet. All the 64 families, who have houses on the land, said the cash compensation was not enough to relocate.

The demand by the Diar Mahinagar residents has prompted land losers on the eastern side of the bridge to also ask for railway jobs. The railways did not face acquisition problems while laying tracks in Nashipur village on the eastern side because the area only had farmland.

“The problem needs to be sorted out immediately. We are holding talks with the state government,” said S.K. Das, the divisional railway manager of Sealdah.

Asked about the job demand, Das said: “I can’t make any commitment. I have informed the railway ministry.”

Railway minister Mukul Roy was not available for comment.

Additional district magistrate Niranjan Kumar said: “The villagers should realise that the railway bridge was built to help people.”

The Murshidabad Railway Passengers’ Association has threatened to organise a 48-hour hunger strike from August 25 demanding that train services be started on the route immediately.

District officials said the bridge would reduce the distance between Murshidabad and north Bengal by about 21km. “The Teesta-Torsha Express (Sealdah to Jalpaiguri) and the Radhikapur Express (Calcutta to North Dinajpur) will benefit when the route connecting Murshidabad and Azimgunj stations starts. These trains now travel along the river. When the bridge becomes operational, they will be able to cross the Bhagirathi,” a railway official said.

“The railways can later divert more trains to the new route,” he added.

The official said Mamata had cleared the Rs 90-crore project during her tenure as railway minister in the NDA regime.

Diar Mahinagar resident Sudhir Mondal said a railway job was crucial. “I own a 10-cottah land and a concrete house. How can I give up both for just money? I will shift only if my son is given a railway job.”