Indo-China tension puts spotlight on NE rail project

Indo-China tension puts spotlight on NE rail project
When completed, the 26.15kms railway project will be the railhead nearest to the Arunachal Pradesh-China border.
GUWAHATI, JUN 18 ( AGENCIES) | Publish Date: 6/18/2020 1:52:40 PM IST

The much-delayed 26.15kms railway project connecting Murkongselek in Assam and Pasighat in Arunachal Pradesh finds itself in the spotlight against the backdrop of the border standoff with China in Ladakh, reports the telegraph.

The project was sanctioned in 2012 but, according to a senior railway official, is stuck since 2017 because of problems over compensation for land earmarked for acquisition. Many have now called for an early resolution of the issue because monetary considerations “cannot come in the way of national security and national interest”. Land had been acquired in two batches in 2017 — 1.79km in Dhemaji district of Assam and 6.6km in Pasighat — but the process has been stuck since then. When completed, the project will be the railhead nearest to the Arunachal Pradesh-China border. Many people and politicians of the region believe that the rail connectivity could be used to ferry soldiers and artillery should tensions with China escalate as rail is a smoother mode of communication in such cases than roads.

Pasighat, which has an advance landing ground for mobilising troops, is between 300km and 450km from the China border.

Any skirmish with China revives memories of the 1962 war when Chinese troops had overrun several towns, including Arunachal’s Bomdila, sparking panic and a mass exodus as far away as Tezpur in Assam. Tezpur is 150km from Bomdila.

The brief 1962 war, from October 20 to November 21, had exposed India’s deficiencies that had mostly to do with lack of preparedness and problems over transporting soldiers and war equipment to the border. People of the region, including Pasighat in East Siang district of Arunachal Pradesh and Murkongselek in Dhemaji district of Assam, don’t want a repeat of such a situation.

Then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had in his address to the nation on All India Radio said on November 20, 1962: “Huge Chinese armies have been marching in the northern part of NEFA (then Arunachal Pradesh). We have had reverses at Walong, Se La and today Bomdila, a small town in NEFA, has also fallen. We shall not rest till the invader goes out of India or is pushed out. I want to make that clear to all of you, and, especially our countrymen in Assam, to whom our heart goes out at this moment.”

The Chinese withdraw on their own but have been claming Arunachal Pradesh to be part of South Tibet. China had in 2017 even renamed six places in Arunachal Pradesh on its official map.Schoolteachers and freelance writers Litem Eshi of Pasighat and Vinod Kumar Singh from Silapathar in Dhemaji district told The Telegraph on Wednesday that monetary compensation should not come in the way of national security and national interest.

“This railway track will serve two objectives. People in eastern Arunachal Pradesh will benefit from this railway project. Defence personnel will also benefit as it will make movement of men and machines that much easier. The issue should be resolved at the earliest,” Eshi, 38, said.

“Compared to the massive (infrastructure) development in the border areas of China, we have a long way to go. They have built highways along the border. Our state, on the other hand, got connected with the railways only in 2014,” he added. “We need to be well-prepared to meet any eventuality. We cannot allow a repeat of 1962. We lost the war mainly because of communication issues.”

Singh echoed Eshi. “This project needs to be given the right push, especially after what is happening in the Galwan Valley (in Ladakh). More so because we keep hearing reports of incursions by Chinese troops along the Line of Actual Control in the frontier state (Arunachal),” the Assam resident said.

An AASU leader from Silapathar in Dhemaji district, Deven Deka, said any project that benefits the region and national security should be completed at the earliest.

According to railway sources, it will take at least three years to complete the project once the land acquisition issues are resolved.

East Siang deputy commissioner Kinny Singh told this correspondent on Wednesday that she was in a meeting and would revert as soon as possible. A text message with queries related to compensation was yet to be answered till late on Wednesday.


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