On Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s advice, the Indian Railways has completed a reconnaissance survey of the ambitious 497-km Bilaspur-Manali-Leh rail link stretching from Himachal Pradesh to Jammu and Kashmir. Strategic link
The link has been conceived as a measure to neutralise China’s strategic advantage along the Sino-Indian border. China has completed its 3,900-km Beijing-Lhasa rail link and is pushing ahead with seven other railroad projects adjoining the Indian border.
China has announced plans to extend rail connectivity to its last outpost at Ruili, adjoining its border with Myanmar, news reports from Beijing said.
In next three years, China proposes to build 5,000 km of rail links, with emphasis on establishing connectivity in the Tibetan Autonomous Region. The country has also proposed to build a rail network in Nepal.
The proposal of the Indian Railways, submitted last week, indicates a 10-year construction timeframe for the Bilaspur-Manali-Leh project at an estimated cost of Rs. 22,500 crore (Rs 225 billion). Bilaspur and Manali are in Himachal Pradesh while Leh is the capital of Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir.
The Railways have spent Rs. 72 lakh (Rs 7.2 million) to conduct the five-month-long survey for the project. The exercise was carried out in March this year.
“Last February, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) sent us a reference for conducting the survey. The Railways will forward the survey findings to the PMO and will seek funding of the scheme as a national project,” a senior railway ministry official said on condition of anonymity.
The army top brass has approved of the proposal. “The Bilaspur-Manali-Leh rail link can act as a vital alternative route for combat equipment transit on the eastern borders,” General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Shimla-based Army Training Command, Lt. Gen. A.S. Lamba told mediapersons on October 2.
Chief of the Army Staff General Deepak Kapoor is also reported to have endorsed the scheme for an “all-weather rail link” to India’s eastern frontier.
Trans-Himalayan Railway Private Limited, a subsidiary of the Delhi-based ICC Holdings, has pitched in with an alternative proposal to implement the scheme under the Public-Private Partnership mode at a cost of Rs. 1.15 lakh crore (Rs 1.15 trillion) over eight years.