Tuesday, May 08, 2007

MPs demand rail link to Sikkim

From Our Spl Correspondent
NEW DELHI, May 4 – The Members today gave vent to their frustration, when Minister of State for Railways, R Velu, failed to justify the reasons for keeping the north eastern State of Sikkim out of the railway map of the country. An anxious Velu’s explanation that several surveys conducted by his Ministry has shown that a new line to link Sikkim was not economically viable, found few takers among the Members, particularly those from the North-east.

The Minister’s reply prompted Ram Jethmalani to rebut Velu and assert that the Railways should link the picturesque State. He pointed out that tourist traffic alone would make the line economically viable. He also mentioned about the strategic importance of linking Sikkim, which borders China.

Karnendu Bhattacharjee and Dwijendranath Sarma soon joined in and confronted the Minister. An agitated Sarma wondered whether the Minister has ever visited the State, arguing that when China could link Tibet with rail link, what prevented the Ministry of Railway to construct a line to Gangtok.

OT Lepcha, who was the questioner, mentioned that the of Sikkim was neither connected by air nor railway and people faced great difficulty in travelling to and from the State. He further said that railway reservations were also hard to come by, pleading some seats should be kept reserved for Sikkim.

Soon other members joined in criticising the Minister before Chairman Bhairon Singh Sekhawat intervened and requested Velu to at least ensure that the people of Sikkim get railway reservation.

Interestingly, the Minister of State said that the criteria fixed by Government of India for laying new lines included project-oriented lines, missing links, lines required for strategic reasons and lines for establishment of new growth centre or giving access to remote areas. The criteria were fixed according to guidelines of the National Transport Policy Committee in 1980.

The Minister similarly listed five guidelines followed by his ministry for conversion of gauge.

Many new lines and gauge conversion projects have been taken up on socio-economic consideration for development of backward hilly, remote and underdeveloped areas. Velu also admitted that there were railway lines in the North-east, which were yet to be converted to broad gauge.

The gauge conversion of metre and narrow gauge lines is being done throughout the country keeping in the availability of resources. The pace of conversion has been expedited and majority of MG lines are proposed to be converted in Eleventh Plan period.