The government is unable to find an estimated Rs 2.1 lakh crore that is needed to construct four ‘priority’ strategic railway lines on the China border.The final location survey (FLS) for these four railway lines is currently being undertaken by the Ministry of Railways after the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) gave its approval in December 2015.
Government sources told The Indian Express that the matter has been discussed repeatedly by the Empowered Committee on Border Infrastructure (ECBI), chaired by the Cabinet Secretary, but no conclusive decision on the funding could be arrived at.
The Ministry of Defence has also raised the issue in the Central Permanent Coordination Framework, which has representatives of the Ministry of Railways. The preliminary estimate of Rs 2.1 lakh crore for construction of the four strategic railway lines was provided by the Railways, and a Steering Committee under Secretary (Expenditure) in the Ministry of Finance was formed to look for ways to finance the construction.
As per government sources, Railways have declined to fund construction of these four lines, calling them commercially unviable, both in projected passenger and freight traffic. The Ministry of Defence had allocated Rs 344.84 crore in FY 2016-17 for the FLS of four strategic lines — the 378-km Missamari-Tenga-Tawang line, the 498-km Bilaspur-Manali-Leh line, the 227-km Pasighat-Tezu-Rupai line, and the 249-km North Lakhimpur-Bame-Silapathar line — after the CCS decided to take them up for construction on priority.
Each of these lines will pass through high-altitude terrain of the Himalayas, with issues pertaining to stability, geology, construction, maintenance and repair which need a detailed study. Once constructed, the Bilaspur-Manali-Leh corridor will be the highest railway line in the world, surpassing China’s Qinghai-Tibet railway.
The construction costs are going to be very high because of the very difficult terrain in which these lines will be constructed. Government sources fear that the estimated costs will further shoot up after the FLS is completed in a couple of years, and a detailed project report presented by the Railways.
These four ‘priority’ lines are part of the 14 strategic lines which were identified for development in November 2010, among the 28 railway lines in border areas approved ‘in principle’ by the Defence Minister in January 2010. Preliminary survey for 10 of the 14 lines was completed, but no further work was done even though these rail lines were declared national projects.