Tripura, surrounded by Bangladesh on three sides, is set to be lose its only rail link with the rest of India, on the fourth side.
Starting October 1, the only metre gauge line connecting the state to Badarpur in Assam and then to the rest of India will be shut for six months for gauge conversion.
This will create immense problems for the people, for whom the railway is the cheapest mode of transport. Passenger transport has been snapped since last year in any case but Tripura also depends heavily on the railway for its regular supply of essential commodities including foodgrains and petroleum products.
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With the Badarpur-Agartala link set to be closed, Tripura will now have to move its foodgrains — about 30,000 tonnes rice, wheat and sugar — by road from Badarpur.
“The closure will last only six months after which Agartala will be connected to the rest of India with a broad gauge railway. The Badarpur-Agartala section has provisions for swiftly converting to broad gauge,” said P J Sharma, chief public relations officer with Northeast Frontier Railway headquarters.
The direct railway link to Tripura was cut off in the 185-km Lumding-Badarpur section in October last year, forcing people to travel by road to Badarpur and then catch a metre gauge train to Agartala. The section was reopened in April, but only for goods trains.
“Though goods trains have started moving in the section, non-resumption of passenger trains has made travel very costly and cumbersome. Barring the few who can afford to fly, people like us have been spending three to four times more on buses,” said Subimal Sarkar, who works in Guwahati and has to travel often to Agartala where his ailing mother lives. An official in Agartala said movement of foodgrains, petroleum products and other essential items had become difficult because of the rail bottleneck and the congested highway through Meghalaya.
“We had to move foodgrains from Kolkata through sea and river routes of Bangladesh when the Lumding-Badarpur section was shut for gauge conversion,” an official in Agartala said.
A railway official said that movement of passenger trains on the Lumding-Badarpur section is unlikely to resume until the monsoon ends.