India's train to Bhutan has clearly been marred in bureaucratic hurdles and procedural delays. With little focus being given in the railway budgets on cross-border rail links, the fate of the 'Golden Jubilee Railway Link' continues to hang in the balance.
The first ever railway link connecting India and Bhutan was announced by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in May 2008 during his visit to Bhutan to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru's historic visit to Bhutan in 1958.
Even after four years of its announcement, the government continues to mull over various options and the project is yet to take off the ground even though communication on files continues in full swing between various government departments and ministries.
The project - also called the Nehru Golden Jubliee Railway Link - was proposed as a 18 kilometres link connecting Hashimara in West Bengal to Toribari in Bhutan.
The ministry of external affairs, which is the lead agency to co-ordinate the development of this link, said it has been taking up the matter at the highest level including with the chief minister of West Bengal but even the survey work is yet to begin.
RITES was asked to prepare the proposed rail link's project report with assistance from Northeastern Frontier (NF) Railways but the consultancy firm has not been able to complete the survey work.
"This is due to difficulty in finalising the location and alignment of the proposed railway line as there is stiff opposition from local residents, tea estate owners and workers," a senior government official told HT. "Alternative alignments, including those suggested by the district administration, have also posed challenges from techno-commercial and environmental points of view, as they pass through thickly forested and protected land."
"The external affairs minister has also written to West Bengal chief minister for seeking his personal intervention but a response is still awaited. On January 5, 2012, the cabinet secretary chaired a meeting and issued instructions to finalise the options for final location survey at the earliest," the official added.
On its part, the West Bengal government has conveyed that the issue needs to be tackled with sensitivity due to the fact that the workers who would be displaced were of tribal and Nepali origin and that this would be an extremely sensitive issue in the already overcharged ethno-political environment of North Bengal.
In a meeting chaired by the national security advisor (NSA) on October 7, 2011, it was decided that "ministry of railways will make a reference to ministry of environment and forests to explore the feasibility of alternative routes."
"However, a response from ministry of railways is awaited."