INTERNATIONAL DESK: In a significant development, the Government of India has earmarked a staggering INR 12 billion for the extensive expansion and modernization of railway infrastructure in the northeastern region of the country. This investment serves as a timely boost for the eagerly awaited first-ever Bhutan-India railway link.
The ambitious 57.5-kilometer railway line will connect Kokrajhar in Assam, India, to Gelephu in Sarpang, Bhutan, and is projected to be constructed at an estimated cost of INR 10 billion, fully funded by the Indian government. The project’s anticipated completion date is set for 2026.
Just a month ago, India’s External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar, hinted at the ongoing discussions between India and Bhutan regarding this transformative railway connection. Speaking to Indian media, he stated, “We are currently in negotiations for a railway link between Bhutan and Assam. Bhutan is keen to open more avenues for tourism, and this endeavor promises to benefit Assam significantly. The proposed railway link between Gelephu and Kokrajhar, situated on the Assam border, could be a game-changer, promoting both trade and tourism.”
This visionary railway connection holds immense promise for fostering economic growth, especially in terms of facilitating the export of goods, enabling cultural exchange, and strengthening bilateral ties between the two nations.
The roots of this project trace back to 2008 when the then-Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, during his historic visit to Bhutan, announced the construction of the Nehru Golden Jubilee Railway link. This initiative commemorated the 50th anniversary of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s momentous visit to Bhutan in 1958.
Subsequently, the India-Bhutan railway plan gained momentum during the Bhutanese Prime Minister’s first visit to India in 2018. Initially, an 18-kilometer railway was proposed to connect Toribari in Phuentsholing, Bhutan, with Hashimara in West Bengal, India. A survey was conducted in 2020. However, the project faced delays due to the necessity of traversing tea estates.
The commencement of the Gelephu-Kokrajhar rail link construction is expected to pave the way for more railway projects in the southern and eastern regions of both nations, including areas like Samtse, Phuentsholing, Nganglam, and Samdrupjongkhar.
Notably, Bhutan and India formalized their commitment to this transformative vision back in 2005 when they signed a Memorandum of Understanding, solidifying their shared aspiration to link the bordering towns of the two nations through a railway network. As the wheels of progress turn, this historic Bhutan-India railway link inches closer to becoming a reality, heralding a new era of connectivity and cooperation. (TBL)