Forest hurdle keeps Sikkim train waiting

None to issue NOC, rail plan stalls

A train passes through Sukna, the area through which tracks to Sikkim will be laid

Siliguri: An ambitious project taken up nine years ago to link the Himalayan state of Sikkim by rail with the rest of the country has been caught in a tangle of no-objection certificates.

The certificates are required to be issued by gram sabhas of villages, or by elected representatives of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA), as a portion of the 45km track will pass through forestland.

But since 2005, there is no gram sabha in any village in the hills as the panchayats completed their five-year terms. Also, there is no elected representative in the GTA for six months.

"We really don't know when we can start the work in full swing. Nine years have passed since commencement of the project but we are stuck over this NOC issue," said a senior official of the Northeast Frontier Railway.

Under the Forest Rights Act, 2006, it is mandatory to get a no-objection certificate from gram sabhas if forest land is used for any other purpose. In this project, around 77.77 hectares of forest land, mostly in the Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary and its fringes, will be used for 29km for the tracks to be laid.

The Union tribal affairs ministry, supposed to issue the final permission based on the NOCs, had said on 2015 - after it was apprised that there are no gram sabhas in the hills - that elected GTA representatives could issue the NOC.

The track would pass through six GTA constituencies. The GTA representatives of these areas had demanded that the railways form a committee, and include them in it, to look and address local issues during the construction. The railways rejected the request and said there is no provision to form a committee.

"The term of GTA has expired and there is no elected member. We have no problem in Sikkim (where the track will run till Rangpo). Due to the delay, the costs might escalate," the railway official said.

In 2009, when then railway minister Mamata Banerjee had laid foundation stone of the project, its estimated cost was Rs 1,339.48 crore. "We are aware there is no elected representative in the GTA now. Thus, we are waiting for fresh directives from the ministry," said Joyoshi Dasgupta, DM, Darjeeling.

Additional input by Vivek Chhetri in Darjeeling


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