The government has kick-started the process of building four top-priority strategic railway lines along the China border — a project that had been stuck in deliberations for years for want of a political decision at the highest level.
Last week, at a high-level meeting with officials from the Planning Commission, Defence, Railways and Finance ministries, the PMO finally asked the Railways to carry out detailed engineering survey of the 1,000-odd kilometres of lines identified by the Defence Ministry as strategically crucial. They are in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Himachal Pradesh, and J&K.
The Railways has been given time till next month to come up with a cost of the detailed survey, which will be borne by the government (Defence/Finance). Sources said the cost of the engineering survey could be around Rs 200 crore.
The identified lines are Missamari-Tawang (378 km) in Assam-Arunachal Pradesh; North Lakhimpur-Along-Silapathar (248 km) in Assam, Murkongselek-Pasighat-Tezu-Parashuram Kund-Rupai (256 km) in Assam-Arunachal Pradesh; and Bilaspur-Mandi-Manali-Leh (498 km) in Himachal Pradesh-Jammu and Kashmir. The detailed engineering survey, kind of detailed project report, is the blueprint based on which work is commissioned.
The Railways has informed the PMO that the topography and the geology is such that most of the lines are in the fault and folds of the Himalayan range, which involves stupendous engineering challenges. This means boring railway tunnels through geologically treacherous terrain.
“We had quite a few geological surprises holding up the numerous tunnel works in the Kashmir line many years ago. From that experience, we are sure that these lines will also throw up such surprises. So the detailed engineering survey has to be thorough,” said a Railway Board source.
The survey will take around two years to complete but sources in the Railways said given the priority attached to it, they might be asked to expedite as well. But a detailed engineering exercise like this cannot be needlessly rushed as well, officials said.
These four lines are part of the 14 strategically important lines of the armed forces to be used presumably for supplies for the Army and troops movement in times of need.
The list was drawn up by the Services based on inputs from the operational commands and validated from an operational and logistics perspective. All these years, the government had been indecisive about who would fund the lines. Railways had been telling the government that it would make the lines but cannot fund it because of financial difficulties and also citing the fact that the lines were not part of its operational needs. The matter had been stuck at that.
Soon after coming to power, the new government has been holding meetings at the Cabinet Secretariat level to arrive at the decision on this. The lines are part of the government programme of building permanent transport infrastructure along the international borders for strategic purposes.