AGARTALA : Agartala-Akhaura rail link, is a significant infrastructure project, which will reduce travel time between Agartala and Kolkata, shrinking the journey from 31 hours to just 10 hours. The Agartala-Akhaura rail project spans a total length of 12.24 kilometers, with 5.46 kilometers located on the Indian side in Tripura and 6.78 kilometers in the Akhaura upa-zilla within the Brahmanbaria district of Bangladesh. The railway journey will commence in Agartala and progress to Nischintapur, situated at the Indian-Bangladesh border, where immigration checks will be conducted. The first station on the Bangladeshi side will be Gangasagar. There are hopes that this project will eventually expand to include connections to Dhaka and Kolkata, enhancing tourism trade, and people-to-people interactions between India and Bangladesh.
Boost to land-locked state of Tripura
The connectivity project holds immense practical significance for the land-locked state of Tripura. Dr. Manik Saha, the Chief Minister of Tripura, participated in the inaugural event via a virtual platform and emphasised the project’s crucial role in enhancing connectivity in the Northeastern region. Saha highlighted how the project would transform Tripura into a key gateway for tourism and transportation between India and Bangladesh. Chief minister also noted that this milestone would be remembered as a pivotal moment in the history of Indo-Bangladesh relations. The Agartala-Akhaura railway project is set to significantly reduce the distance between Agartala and Kolkata, making it more accessible, effectively reducing the travel distance from 1600 kilometers to just 500 kilometers.
Beyond its practical significance, the connectivity with Bangladesh also carries deep emotional significance for Tripura. The state shares an 856-kilometer international border with Bangladesh, which is the second-longest border after West Bengal. Tripura is entirely surrounded by Bangladesh on three sides, with Assam bordering it on the fourth. During the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war and the creation of Bangladesh, Tripura, a state with a population of only 1.4 million at the time, provided refuge to nearly 1.5 million East Pakistani refugees. It hosted at least eight major muktijoddha (liberation warrior) training camps. With the new connectivity project in place, it is hoped that people on both sides can look forward to even closer and smoother ties, further strengthening the historical and cultural bonds between the two regions.
What is this project and who is funding?
The Indian Railway Construction International Limited (IRCON), a Public Sector Undertaking (PSU) under Indian Railways, oversaw the implementation of the project on the Indian side. The work on the Bangladesh side was undertaken by Texmaco, a private Indian company. An area of 86.85 acres was acquired for the project on the Indian side and subsequently handed over to IRCON.
Originally scheduled for completion in 2020, the project faced delays primarily due to challenges related to land acquisition and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. It required at least three deadline extensions to reach its current stage of development.
Funding: a) The Agartala-Akhaura rail project, initially outlined in a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed in 2013, commenced with an initial budget of Rs 972.52 crore in 2016.
b) This allocation included Rs 580 crore for the Indian segment and Rs 392.52 crore for the Bangladesh section. However, due to cost escalation and other related expenses, the budget underwent two subsequent revisions. The final estimated cost for the project stands at Rs 1,255.10 crore, with Rs 862.58 crore designated for work on the Indian side.
c) It’s worth noting that India is funding the entire project, with the Ministry for Development of North East Region (DoNER) funding the Indian side and the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) providing financial support for the Bangladesh portion under the category of ‘Aid to Bangladesh.’