SILCHAR: Sixty eight years after Indian Independence, the people of Assam’s Barak Valley finally got the first ever direct train to Guwahati. Small wonder then that with poll season upon Assam, political parties are engaged in a war of words over who gets credit for the project.
The Silchar-Guwahati Fast Passenger train was flagged off on September 21. Subsequently, Kolkata-Guwahati Kanchenjunga Express and New Delhi-Guwahati Sampark Kranti Express train services were extended to Silchar in the valley. The 210-km gauge conversion facilitated the direct train services. Earlier, trains from the valley plied up to Lumding in central Assam’s Nagaon district on the meter gauge. The direct trains allow passengers to reach Guwahati in about 12 hours as opposed to the 20 hours it used to take. But with Assembly polls approaching, the Congress and BJP are trying to claim credit for the project.
“The BJP may try to take credit for the gauge conversion project as it was commissioned during their time. But I must say that the project picked up momentum in 2004 when Manmohan Singh had donned the mantle of Prime Minister,” Congress’ Silchar MP, Sushmita Dev, told Express. “BJP must remember Rome was not built in a day. If we have to give credit to anyone, it should be the people of the valley who have fought very hard for this,” she added.
Meanwhile, BJP’s Silchar MLA, Dilip Paul, alleged the Congress had held up the gauge conversion work. “Congress couldn’t complete even 60 per cent of the work. It was owing to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s sincerity that the remaining work could be completed in just 17-18 months. Had they continued to be in power, they would have taken another 10 years to complete it,” Paul said.
The Silchar Lumding Broad Gauge Rupayan Sangram Samiti and the Citizens’ Forum had been very vocal in demanding the completion of the project, which was sanctioned in 1996-97 at an initial cost of `648 crore (The final cost was `5,600 crore). Ajay Roy of the Sangram Samiti admitted the project picked up momentum after the BJP-led NDA came to power in 2014. “If Congress wanted, it could have completed it earlier. BJP finished the work on a war-footing owing to pressure from the people of the valley and those from Manipur, Mizoram and Tripura,” he said.
Northeast Frontier Railway officials say insurgency and hostile terrain had delayed completion of the project, which was vital to bring Agartala on the broad gauge map.
BJP may gain brownie points but the valley has long been a Congress stronghold. The people are just happy they can travel up to Guwahati, Kolkata and Delhi without changing trains.