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Four new trains, a rail line for N-E

New Delhi, Feb. 26: The Centre today announced four new trains and a new rail line for the Northeast while assuring that trains would ply for the first time in Arunachal Pradesh this year.

“For the first time the state of Arunachal has been brought into the rail network and we shall commission the Harmuti-Naharlagun line this year (2013-14),” railway minister Pawan Kumar Bansal said while presenting the railway budget today.

He said the project was of “national importance” as were the Rupai-Parasuramkunda new line, which his ministry would pursue for approval, and the gauge conversion of Lumding-Silchar and Rangia-Murkongselek, which the railways is trying to fast track.

The budget also proposed doubling of New Bongaigaon-Kamakhya via Rangiya section subject to obtaining necessary clearance/approval

The new line proposed — Dimapur-Tizit in Mon district of Nagaland— will open up parts of “neglected” eastern Nagaland.

Work on the new line railway project to connect Manipur is also in full swing, the minister said.

“I am fully conscious of the difficult task of the finance minister but hope that he will find ways to provide necessary funds for important rail connectivity projects,” he added.

The budget announced four new weekly trains — Kamakhya-Jodhpur Express; Kamakhya-Anand Vihar (New Delhi) Express; Kamakhya-Bangalore AC Express and New Tinsukia-Rajendra Nagar Terminus (Patna) Express.

Besides, it proposed extension of the Lalgarh-Guwahati Avadh Assam Express to New Tinsukia and that of Guwahati-Ernakulam Express to Thiruvananthapuram.

Bansal also announced skill-development centres for youths in railway-related trades at Agartala (Tripura), Dimapur (Nagaland), Imphal (Manipur), Lumding (Assam) and Naharlagun (Arunachal Pradesh).

Several MPs from the region were, however, sceptical about the completion of the projects.

Lok Sabha MP Thokchom Meinya said the budget undoubtedly touched almost every point in the region. “But let us see how deeply it touches,” he added, pointing out missed deadlines on projects, some of whose targeted completion was in 2009.

Many parliamentarians, even from the Congress, said the Centre announces projects with fanfare but does little to pump in money and execute them on time. Repeated references to old projects and renewed deadlines are routine.

Congress MP from Arunachal Pradesh Ninong Ering said he was “happy” that the Naharlagun line was finally completed but added that “it is an old project, mentioned earlier.”

He said as railway minister, Ram Vilas Paswan had also promised a line to the Arunachal Pradesh town of Pasighat over a decade ago but it was yet to be completed.

For Meinya, the Jiribam-Tupul-Imphal line is a dream that is pushed a few years away every other year. The targeted completion was in 2009, which was pushed to 2012. “The minister said the work is going on in full swing….Now they say the project may be completed in 2016.”

Ering said the Parasuramkunda-Rupai line could help industry in the region as there were prospects for cement manufacture, besides tourism. The track that could act as a pilgrim-cum-tourist route, covering Namsai and Mahadevpur, is also an important one strategically.

BJP MP from Silchar, Kabindra Purkayastha, said the completion target for the Lumding-Silchar line that lends connectivity to Manipur and Mizoram and whose foundation was laid in 1996 keeps getting deferred — from 2003 to 2012 to 2015.

He said two years ago, insurgency was a major problem in North Cachar Hills (now Dima Hasao) and contractors were afraid to work. “But there is no such problem now, so why this dithering? This budget is not a good one for the Northeast,” a disappointed Purkayastha concluded.