A 20-km proposed railway track between Agartala and Bangladesh's Akhaura that would effectively connect Kolkata with Tripura and reduce the distance almost by two-third stands on a sticky ground over land acquisition issues.During Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's trip to Dhaka earlier this month, railways of the two countries couldn't sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on operationalising the Agartala-Akhaura rail link project over last moment land-related disputes.
A few days before Singh's arrival, Dhaka demanded changes in the draft MoU whereby Indian contractors would be liable for all land acquisition claims and disputes, according to a railway ministry source. Indian Railways wants Dhaka to take care of all compensation arising out of damage or loss of property for the project.
Bangladesh also expressed inability to provide land at discounted rates for this infrastructure and reportedly refused tax concessions on import of machinery by the Indian contractors, according to a railways official. The railways, however, is yet to take up the issue with the external affairs ministry.
During the British Raj, Akhaura was the rail head for Agartala in the undivided India. It also served as a major link between Chittagong Port and Tripura. "Initially our aim is to transport goods to Indian and Bangladeshi ports from North-East. But eventually there would be passenger service too," said a railways official.
Although the project is sponsored by New Delhi and pegged at almost 55 million USD, the new demands made Indian Railways apprehensive about its cost escalation. External affairs ministry is funding the Bangladesh portion while ministry for development of north eastern region is funding the Indian portion of the railway line.
New Delhi has some other major rail projects for Bangladesh under its 1 billion USD line of credit (LOC) to Dhaka. It added another rail link to this cart during Singh's trip. The project was announced in the joint communiqué during Bangladeh PM Sheikh Hasina's India visit in January 2010.