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As Iran starts Chabahar-Zahedan railway project, India hints: May join later

India is not part of this project as of now, since there is lack of clarity on whether the railway project will attract US sanctions.

Written by Shubhajit Roy | New Delhi |
July 15, 2020 4:58:55 am

Iran started work on the Chabahar-Zahedan railway project last week since it wants to complete a section before Iranian President Hassan Rouhani faces elections next year.

India is not part of this project as of now, since there is lack of clarity on whether the railway project will attract US sanctions.

While Chabahar port development has been exempted from US sanctions, sources said there is ambiguity over the railway link.

As India talks to the US and awaits clarity, it has conveyed to Iran that it is open to joining the project at a later stage, once the geopolitical situation becomes clearer — possibly by the end of the year when the US elections take place.

Sources pointed out that India had allocated Rs 100 crore for the Chabahar project in this year’s Budget. The allocation of the funding signals India’s desire and commitment to be part of the project, but it has to undertake “due diligence” before spending the money.

As reported by Iranian news agency IRNA, the project is aimed at connecting Chabahar with Zahedan, the capital of southeastern Sistan-Baluchestan province. Iran plans to complete it by the end of Iranian calendar year of 1400 (March 2022), it reported.

Speaking at the event, Khademi noted that the total length of this railroad is 628 km, 150 km of which will be laid by the end of the current Iranian calendar year (March 2021).

Referring to the importance of Chabahar-Zahedan railway line, Khademi said that due to its strategic position, Chabahar port will be a gateway for the country’s trade, and developing this region’s infrastructure is a necessity to create more job opportunities and promote economic growth.

Sources in Iranian government told The Indian Express on Tuesday that on Chabahar port, Iran has always been “committed to its common vision and partnership with India to develop the port for the sake of peace, sustainable development and economic integration in the region”. The country, a source said, is “happy to say that even during this Corona Pandemic, goods transiting via Chabahar Port, which is operated by India, is flourishing day by day”.

Iran has also offered many more investment opportunities – including in road and railway, power, petrochemical, steel and fertiliser sectors – in Chabahar Free Zone as well as on Makran coast, including to India during the past decades, the source said.

“Chabahar port, together with its under-construction railway line to Zahedan (also offered to Indian companies IRCON and Rites for some years), are part of the International North-South Transit Corridor, which significantly cuts short the traditional trade routes between India and the European and CIS countries’ [post-Soviet Eurasian republics] markets,” the Iranian source said.

The source said, “It was expected that in addition to investment in Chabahar port, India could also play a more crucial role in funding and constructing this strategic transit route from Chabahar to Zahedan, and from Zahedan to Sarakhs at the border with Turkmenistan, which in the absence of active Indian engagement and partnership is currently under construction by Iranian funding and engineering capacities.”

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