To counter China’s great push to build railway links in South Asia, the Indian Railways has come up with a plan to build links with Nepal and Bhutan.
A senior Railways Ministry official said on condition of anonymity that Rail India Technical and Economic Services (RITES) had been commissioned to conduct feasibility studies on six railway links with Nepal and three with Bhutan.
China, at Nepal Prime Minister Madhav Nepal’s invitation, has already drawn up plans to extend its 1,956-km-long railway line, connecting Qinghai province and Tibet across the Tibetan plateau, to Kathmandu.
China also pitched in with proposals to build an internal railway network in Nepal, news reports from Kathmandu said. What’s more, reports from Beijing indicated that China would construct a link to Pakistan through the Karakoram Highway, besides linking with Bangladesh via Myanmar.
Over the past few months, India stepped up diplomatic initiatives to neutralise China’s advantage in the region. India’s Ambassador to Nepal Shiv Shankar Mukherjee told reporters in Kathmandu last July: “To forge better connectivity between Kathmandu and Delhi, India is considering bringing railway lines into Nepal.”
The Indo-Nepal routes being surveyed include six lines — from Raxaul, Jogbani and Jayanagar in Bihar to Birgunj, Biratnagar and Bardibas; Nautanwa and Nepalgunj Road in Uttar Pradesh to Bhairahawa and Nepalgunj, and New Jalpaiguri in West Bengal to Kakarbhitta.
There exists only one rail link between India and Nepal, between Jayanagar and Janakpur.
“Some of these alignment surveys have been completed, while others are at an advanced stage,” said RITES MD V K Agarwal.
For Bhutan, the railways conducted internal surveys of three links – from Pathshala and Kokrajhar in Assam to Nanglam and Gelephu and Hashimara in West Bengal to Phunt Sholing. The cost of these projects is estimated at Rs 1,000 crore.