Sunday, January 30, 2011

Lumding to Silchar : The story of an endless tunnel.

When, the then Prime Minister HD Devegowda landed in Silchar to lay the foundation stone of the broad gauge conversion work of the Lumding – Silchar corridor in 1996, he greeted the people of Silchar with a few words in Assamese, completely ignorant of the fact that, the couple of thousands strong crowd which had gathered to listen to him did not speak the language at all. He was also shamelessly insensitive to the fact, that, the region he was visiting had a bloody yet illustrious history of struggle to safeguard their mother tongue Bengali. That insensitivity was just a symbolic representation of the insensitivity the gauge conversion project itself was to face in the years to come. Since then, 15 more summers have passed and three more politicians have warmed the Prime Minister’s chair, but the insensitivity still persists. The insensitivity starts from the Prime Minister’s desk and flows down the chain to reach the Railway Minister and then catches up with the Chief Minister of Assam to finally reach his cronies in Barak Valley who falsely claim to represent the region in the state’s assembly.


Otherwise, how would one explain the fact that, even after 15 years of the sanctioning of the project, only about half the work has been completed? How would one explain the fact that, there are aspersions even today that the project will take another seven to eight years to complete, despite getting the status of a national project?

The NF Railway employees Union has recently expressed concern that the project will be completed only by 2018. A progress report issued by NF Railway on the project for the month of November, 2010, available with Concern For Silchar says that about 51 percent of tunnelling work has been completed and about 55 percent of the construction of super structures of major bridges has been completed. The report also explains at length that the poor road condition in the region is a major deterrent towards the rapid completion of the project. The report states that: “Though the project of 4 laning of Lumding-Silchar (National Highway has been sanctioned, condition of the road in NC Hills area has become horrible. It is worthwhile to mention that most of the structural steel materials and reinforcement, cement, sand, aggregate etc. has to be brought from far flung areas. With the present condition of the roads, which are not at all motorable, it will not be possible to move the heavy materials specially Bridge girder components etc. Immediate restoration and its continued sustenance of the road condition including the wooden bridges need to be ensured for smooth movement of men and materials”. The progress report also blames the poor law and order situation of NC Hills (now Dima Hasao district) and continuous rainfall as the other problems plaguing the construction work.

The obvious question that arises now is why the repair work and construction of the road network along this railway alignment has not been expedited over the years? The PWD, Assam and the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) are in charge of the four laning of the National Highway 54 Extension that passes through the Dima Hasao district. Despite so much public outcry, why these agencies are not carrying out the repair work of the road rapidly?

The Assam government claims that it has brought peace in Dima Hasao by signing cease fire deals with the Dima Halam Daoga (Jewel Gorlosa faction). However, the engineers of the construction companies that are working in the district say that there is not much change on the ground. Tribal insurgents and petty miscreants harass these engineers regularly and there is no action taken by the state’s Police machinery. The delay of the project is not only creating a major communication bottleneck for the people of south Assam, Tripura, Manipur and Mizoram, it is also denting the national exchequer in a major way. While the original completion cost of this 201 kilometre stretch was Rs. 1,689.12 crores, now it has catapulted to Rs. 3,909.49 crores. If the Railway fails yet again to meet the next deadline of December, 2013, the cost will escalate further.

A German engineer who worked in the Konkan Railway project in western India had said that, India seems like the richest nation in the world because of the manner in which its public sector projects are delayed and costs are allowed to escalate. Even the developed countries would not be able to afford such luxuries.

Ironically, all the reasons that the Railway authorities have listed in this report for the delay existed a hundred years back also when the metre gauge corridor was being laid by the British. Yet, they managed to complete the entire survey work, followed by construction in little over 20 years. If anything, the conditions were far more hostile. There were no roads at all, the native tribals were virtually untouched by modern civilisation, most of the construction material had to shipped to the Chittagong port from the United Kingdom and the dangerous anopheles mosquitoes crowding the jungles there were capable of whipping of entire gangs of workers . However, those executing this project then were not corrupt like the present lot and were passionate about their work and that made the difference.


A book titled ‘The Final Frontier’ published by the NF Railway chronicles the entire process that led to the commissioning of the Lumding – Badarpur hill section. It says that when the survey work for the corridor was being carried out between 1882 and 1887, there was huge resistance from the indigenous Dimasas and other tribes who opposed the intrusion of the whites into their territories. On October 25, 1887 the Governor General in Council finally decided to construct the corridor after much debate and discussion. Their vision was to provide railway connectivity to the Chittagong port via the hill section and provide a viable alternative to the already crowded Calcutta Port. Moreover, they viewed this line to be extremely beneficial to the tea gardens and coal mines in the region. Adding to the bottlenecks mentioned above, a massive earthquake measuring 8.7 on the Richter Scale hit Shillong on June 12, 1897. This quake completely destroyed parts of the under construction Guwahati – Lumding section and also dealt a body blow to the progress in the hill section. But despite these problems, the Damcherra – Lumding section was opened for traffic on December 1, 1903 and the entire corridor opened a year later.

Contrast this to the 21st century technology that independent India is apparently using to only convert the metre gauge section into broad gauge. We should hang our heads in shame for such unacceptable delays but the shameless scoundrels ruling us don’t have any such pangs of conscience. Forget about the broad gauge conversion, the Railways have not even been able to maintain the metre gauge section properly. It now functions for only about three to four months a year and remains cancelled for the rest for different reasons ranging from landslides to law and order incidents. Even when the trains run, the services are abysmal. There are no lights in the coaches, the toilets are without water and time schedules are never followed. A member of the Railway Board, the elite body of Indian Railway’s engineers, recently said at a function that the Indian Railways does not have the expertise to run metre gauge trains. When a senior Railway functionary sitting in Delhi makes such candid confessions, obviously there is not much hope for the metre gauge section which runs in a far flung God forbidden corner of the North East.

23 comments:

  1. brilliantly written. But 1 point that you have missed is the transport lobby that plays a very significant part in delaying this project

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah valid point

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  2. yeah I agree with the Anonymous...the transport lobby (and we all know which political party and parties they belong to ) the kadarjyas and the dev babus and the two big Gandus..sorry Gs and many of their arrant followers...but a very well written as always...keep on writing...our time will come for sure...keep on the good work...atleast a few like us are listening...does not matter who we are , what we do, where we live now...the heart still lies there in the God forbidden corner of FAR north east.

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  3. One of the best posts from CFS. It summaries the never-ending story of Lumding-Silchar NF railways project very aptly. I wish there is a change someday. Though I don't see that change coming in my lifetime. keep walking!!!

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  4. Silcharities or i must say the barak valley is too sensitive and emotionally attached to their language. And feel offended if anything apart from bengali is spoken in their paradise...as if every one should speak their language.... remember we are in Assam and shouldn't be to emotive about anything like english, asssameese bengali or anything....We are Indians and should not highlight what causes division. And i must say Bengali is a damm good language and it doesn't needs emotions... and stop writing in a way that shows everything is bad in silchar. What people of silchar are doing for their city ?? Can they make a change like seen in Bihar, Tunisia or today in Egypt. i guess no.. Only thing they can harp about is writing blogs in imaginary way (pls see your previous blogs)..attaching emotional issues and no concrete actions.

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  5. @Anonymous 3: It is unfortunate that you could not grasp the real issues the post was trying to highlight. We had no intention of hurting any linguistic community.

    However, when the Prime Minister, the highest directly elected leader of the country visits a region, he is expected to know about the culture of that place and if he does not do that he fails in his duties. We only tried to bring to light this basic issue. For example, no Prime Minister would address a gathering in Darjeeling in Bengali only because Darjeeling is geographically in West Bengal. Causing divisions was certainly not our intention. And yes, we are proud and emotional about our mother tongue and every else also should be the same. this in no way makes us partial or parochial against any other language or community.

    It is also amply clear that you do not bother to follow what is happening in Silchar, rather watch television channels to know about Tunisia and Egypt. For your information, much before the revolution in the African countries about 20,000 people walked together in a procession in Silchar last year demanding better civic amneties. Even today, the struggle is on in different parts of the valley for such causes. Read the internet versions of the local newspapers and you will get to know. We are mere foot soldiers who are supporting these movements on the virtual world.

    As far as our imaginary write ups are concerned, we welcome your criticism. However, our creative freedom is our own and no one in this democracy can prevent us from airing our views.

    @Anonymous 1 and 2 and Anorak: Thanks for your encouragement. Keep supporting the cause.

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  6. Great post. Broadgauge seems like a distant dream for us.

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  7. If people of Egypt, Libya, Baharin can protest and change the scenario then why not people of Barak Valley? People of barak valley must wakeup and organise big rally and protest march to make things work. Right now Barak Valley's 2G (Goala & Gautam) and others are looting public money. Situation of roads are pathetic, people are suffering but not raising voice against those gunda & chor representing Gogoi government in Assam.

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  8. Well written and researched my friends here. First of let me express my salutation for your works. Some people here might try to make you little by saying what use of such works on net, while all of us should be on road to launch protest. But, things is that we live in different parts of the globe. Yet, it's internet which is providing us the scope to stay updated and interact on such issues. It's internet which is changing all the political discourse around the globe. So, Thanks friend. I can understand you have nothing to say for or against any language here. Still I would request you to write some of them in Bengali here and make them available to them who have little access to English. One thing I want to contradict. You've said," information, much before the revolution in the African countries about 20,000 people walked together in a procession in Silchar last year demanding better civic amneties. Even today, the struggle is on in different parts of the valley for such causes. Read the internet versions of the local newspapers and you will get to know. We are mere foot soldiers who are supporting these movements on the virtual world." It's true that whoever of us wanted to organize such Egypt or even six years long Assam like agitations have failed so far. Then be practical my friend. These 20,000 people walked only for a few hours there and didn't went too far. My question is WHY?????????????????????????????? No body is going in depth of such social character of the valley. We've deep grievances against Dispur. Yet, we've always voted the winning ruling parties their. What can explain such contradictory behavior of our own people?
    Another, why you have kept your names secret? You people are doing great job. And we should know whom we are talking with.

    ReplyDelete
  9. @Anonymous, Ashraf and Shushanta: Thanks for your support. Keep reading and spread the word.

    @Shushanta: We agree with you that our greatest failure is the fact that we have not been able to produce a single political force which can speak and fight only for us. We always get divided on religious and communal lines and end up voting for the wron parties and candidates. As far as movements are concerned, it is unfortunate that we have not been able to take our fight to the next level.

    Our identities really dont matter. We believe that we are among those thousands who suffer and feel frustrated about the state of affairs in our homeland. We are sure you will continue to support us in the future as well.

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  10. is silchar being filled by non-bengalis

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  11. 20,000 people walking in a procession for better basic amenities, shop owners sells leechi drinks with no dustbin encouraging customers to throw the empty plastic bottles into drains which ultimately blocks the flow.

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  12. This is the Mail which i sent to President of India, Prime Minister of India,Rail minister of India,Chairman of Railway & Rahul Gandhi on the Issue of Silchar-Lumding BG Line more than 3times. But till today i have not received any reply from anyone.

    Respected Prime Minister Sir ,
    The people of Barak valley ( Assam ) is suffering FROM a major breach in their communication, IN SPECIAL REFERENCE to the railway TRACK .To over come these hazards the Central Govt took up the conversion of MG line to B.G from Silchar to Lumding IN 1996. But the PROJECT IS yet to be IMPLEMENTED though the govt is giving REPEATED ASSURANCE AND the date of completion OF THE PROJECT IN several OCCASION.

    Sir, May I know exect date AND year of completion of B.G Line from Silchar to Lumding to be communicated to us from end make us ever greatful.REALLY WE ARE BADLY IN NEED OF THE SAID PROJECT WHICH MAY BE CALLED THE LIFE LINE OF THE PEOPLE OF BARAK VALLEY (ASSAM ).

    THANKING YOU AND OBLIGE.

    Thanks & Regards.

    DEBOPAM PURKAYASTHA.

    Email :-debopam.purkayastha1982@gmail.com

    Contact no - 9854061580,9957368297.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Hi,

    Bless myself for having found this article. I have been digging the whole of Internet for any old survey records on the Hill-section , or for that matter any history records. All the efforts were coming to vain, until I read here that there does exist the book " Final Frontier" by NF Railway. Let me know as to where to get this book from?

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  14. @Rajiv: You can approach the CPRO, NF Railway headquarters, Maligaon for a copy. Even if they cannot give you a fresh copy, they will b able to give you a photocopy.

    ReplyDelete
  15. @CFS, bless thy divine soul!! I shall try to source it through my sources in Maligaon.

    Food for thought - Why don't the nincompoops at NFR publish the whole survey record on their website. It's one of the best engineering marvels.
    In those times, that particular rail-track had the steepest incline anywhere in the world.

    ReplyDelete
  16. We need a revolution like the way we all did in 1968

    ReplyDelete
  17. I think people of barak valley has tried everything using agitations,strikes.Now i think that a separate state demand should be made.This thing will surely shiver the attitude of guwahati.(i.e the capital of Assam).
    Or atleast using the opposition party and barak valleys representatives we need to agitate in Dispur,instead of silchar.
    Because there is a limit to suffer.Everyone want peace.But it can not be in the cost of our lives.
    Political bosses are expert in assuring false promises.An independent body should be there to look after the routine work going in the Silchar-Guwahati stretch of East West Corridor.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Benefits of independent body comprising of retired Civil,electrical engineers,retired Police Officers CAs....is that they will publish there finding in weekly basis in the local newspaper.

    In that update the
    stretch of road construction
    Amount of work
    People involved. etc should be there.So that the common man knows and is bound to pay attention to their basic right and basic need.


    The payment of these retired professionals can be done using donations from clubs,NGOs,Business firm.etc

    The reason is there is a huge amount of brain drain from Barak valley.Talented people are bound to work outside.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Information provided in this page is informative and useful.I got shocked to know that there is a railway track which is passing very near from active volcano in Japan & it is connecting Takamori to Tateno Station in Minamiaso.There are few world's most terrifying and gusty railway tracks , which gives you goose bumps.

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Silchar through the Lense