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India ‘hops on’ to trains to boost connectivity to places near China border

Source : The Federal

India ‘hops on’ to trains to boost connectivity to places near China border
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As part of the Centre’s ongoing initiative to boost connectivity along the India-China border, the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) has lined up three projects to extend the rail link near Line of Actual Control (LAC).

These infrastructure projects will provide railway connectivity to Tawang and Aalo in Arunachal Pradesh and Nathula in Sikkim. The NFR sources said that while the final location surveys of 378-km-long Bhalukpong-Tenga-Tawang and 247.85-km-long North Lakhimpur- Bame-Aalo-Silapathar rail routes are almost complete, the survey works for the proposed Rangpo-Gangtok-Nathu La railway project will start soon in two phases.

“We will soon start the survey work for the Rangpo-Gangtok section. In the next phase we will take up the survey to extend the connectivity to Nathu La,” said NFR general manager Anshul Gupta.

The railway sources said the target is to complete the first phase of the survey by August this year.

The bordering state of Sikkim is likely to be connected to the Indian Railways network by December next year following the completion of the 44.98-km-long Sevoke (West Bengal)-Rangpo (Sikkim) railway line. In the Union budget ?2500 crore has been sanctioned for the ongoing project, 29 per cent of work of which has been completed so far, sources added.

The actual cost of the two strategic railway projects in Arunachal Pradesh will be known only after the final location surveys, but the NFR sources estimate it to be around Rs 70,000 crore. They say the Bhalukpong-Tawang line will be the most challenging project of the Indian Railways as the rail tracks will pass though high altitude ranging from 500 feet to 13,000 feet. At Sela, the highest elevation on the route, the altitude will be above 13,000 feet.

Road connectivity to Tawang through Sela pass in winter has posed serious logistic challenges for the Army for decades. To overcome the challenge, the Border Roads Organisation is currently constructing a 1,555-metre twin tube tunnel to provide all-weather connectivity to Tawang.

About 80 per cent of the railway line will pass through tunnels, as per the initial project plan. It will take at least six to seven years for the project to be completed following the survey.

These projects assume strategic importance for India as China last year expanded its high-speed bullet train network almost to the border linking Lhasa to Nyingchi near the border with Arunachal Pradesh.

Bumla, the border pass that marks the India-China border, is just 37 kilometre from Tawang while Aalo is the gateway to Mechuka Valley, which is just 29 kilometres from the China border. Nathu la is located at the Indo-China border.

The rail projects are part of the infrastructure push India is trying to give to counter China, which is aggressively developing communication infrastructure along the border.

Apart from these railway projects, the defence ministry proposed to build 104 roads covering around 6,400 kms along LAC in Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Ladakh to facilitate quick mobilisation of troops.

To boost connectivity along the LAC, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh in December last year inaugurated 24 bridges, including one each in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh, and three roads along the northern and eastern borders with China.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, in her budget speech, announced a scheme to strengthen infrastructure in villages on the northern border against the backdrop of China setting up villages close to LAC in both eastern and northern sectors.

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