Meghalaya rail dream on track PM stresses connectivity

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By SUMIR KARMAKAR ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SAIDUL KHAN
  • Published 30.11.14
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Guwahati, Nov. 29: A dream nurtured during the British era, that of putting Meghalaya on the country’s railway map, was fulfilled as Prime Minister Narendra Modi set off a signal at 5.50pm here today.

Modi flagged off a train between Meghalaya’s Mendipathar and Guwahati, a distance of 131km, and laid the foundation stone for a 51.38km-long new broad gauge railway line between Bhairabi and Sairang in Mizoram.

As the Prime Minister held the green flag at the NF Railway Sports Stadium at Maligaon here, the train chugged out of the new station at Mendipathar amid the cheers of thousands who gathered there to be a part of the “historic moment.”

LCD screens were put up here to share the enthusiasm of the moment.

With his maiden visit to the Northeast as Prime Minister beginning today, Modi emphasised improving connectivity, seen as the region’s major bottleneck for progress. He will visit Manipur, Nagaland and Tripura during his four-day visit.

Underlining his government’s resolve to accord priority to the development of the Northeast, Modi said he had heard that according to vastu shastra, if the northeastern corner of the house was well maintained, the entire house could be taken care of.

He said for India to be prosperous, the development of the Northeast is a priority.

He reminded the gathering about the commitment of Rs 28,000 crore in the first budget of his government to building new railway lines in the region.

“If we need to improve the Northeast, we must have good infrastructure in place. The people will do the rest. The Northeast can be the Lakshmi of the country, if we can improve road and railway connectivity. I held discussions with the SAARC countries in Kathmandu recently. If we want to reap the benefits of the Look East policy, we need to adopt the Act East policy and prepare the Northeast for the opportunities in Asia,” Modi said amid thunderous applause.

Officials of NF Railway said the plan to connect Meghalaya was envisaged in 1880 when the British wanted to link Shillong (the capital of the composite Assam province) with Calcutta through Mawsmai, Cherrapunjee, Companyganj, Sylhet and Goalandu.

The project, however, did not materialise.

Guwahati and Dudhnoi in Assam’s Goalpara district have railway tracks but work on the 19.75km track between Dudhnoi and Mendipathar in Meghalaya’s North Garo hills district began in November 2008.

The Rs 275-crore project was ready in March this year and received the safety clearance in August. Nearly 10.26km of the track falls in Assam.

Lauding Meghalaya chief minister Mukul Sangma, who was also present, Modi said connectivity, including optical fibre network system in the region, would help local youths get jobs.

“We have decided to expand the railway network and improve services. So we decided to allow 100 per cent FDI in railways. We will set up four new railway universities in four corners of the country to educate youths on railways,” Modi said.

Assam governor J.B. Patnaik, Meghalaya and Mizoram governor K.K. Paul, Mizoram chief minister Lal Thanhawla, Union minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju, Union minister for sports Sarbananda Sonowal and railway board chairman A. Kumar attended the function.

Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi, who submitted a memorandum to Modi to improve railway services in the state, said he was in favour of having the bullet trains being planned by the Centre, in Assam.

The memorandum also said to ensure security of rail communication between the Northeast and the rest of the country, it is essential to have an alternative railway link through this stretch.

Over 3,000 people gathered at Mendipathar railway station to witness the event. Former Lok Sabha Speaker Purno Agitok Sangma and former chief minister of Meghalaya and chairman Meghalaya planning commission, Salseng C. Marak, Meghalaya transport minister H.D.R. Lyngdoh, chief Opposition whip, James K. Sangma, Meghalaya chief secretary, Barkos Warjri and divisional railway manager, NF Railway, Rangiya Ratan Lal, were present. Purno Sangma told The Telegraph, “When Modi waved the green flag, I felt Garo hills is moving forward to a better future.”

The veteran politician said, “In 1977, when I was first elected to Parliament, my first demand was rail connectivity for Garo hills. It is like a dream come true for me.”

He took the opportunity to thank the people of Mendipathar, who supported the move. On the expansion of the rail route, Sangma said, “I will pursue with the Centre the new proposal to expand the train services to Goalpara via Tikrikilla, Phulbari, Rajabala upto Damalgre, near Tura.”

“We have been together, and here we are,” Salseng Marak said to Purno, as they hugged to celebrate the event.

Speaking to The Telegraph, school teacher Sengman G. Momin said, “We are excited to see the train move from Mendipathar. We feel that we have contributed to this by handing over the land for construction of the station.” A young doctor who came from Baghmara in South Garo Hills, Jacob Marak, said, “I am here to celebrate Garo hills getting connected to rest of India. It is a proud moment for me.”

For Bijay Dey Sarkar, who has been with the railways for the past 28 years, it was a different moment altogether as he drove the train from Mendipathar.

Sarkar said, “I am elated to be a part of this moment, when Meghalaya is being put on the railway map of India.”