GUWAHATI, July 29 – It is a corridor of concern not just for the Indian Railways but also for the NE states which rely on it for vital supplies. The nearly 50 kilometre railway route in western Assam close to the Bengal border has emerged as a section vulnerable to protest action of various types.
Very recently, it was in this area where armed protestors halted passenger trains and even caused damaged to a Guwahati bound Rajdhani Express. It was timely action on the part of the loco pilot – who did a rapid ‘push back’ – that saved lives of hundreds of passengers.
According to sources in NF Railway, the stretch between Basugaon and Srirampur stations have witnessed protests and blockades from time to time. Much earlier, the same area had experienced bomb blasts on rail tracks leading to deaths and massive damage to railway assets. In one of the worst cases, 34 people had perished in a bomb blast near Sesapani in 1996.
NFR officials agree that the recent blockade of trains that saw a total halt to train movement to and from the Northeast was the worst they have experienced. “The 50 km stretch between Basugaon and Srirampur is clearly vulnerable and steps should be taken to ensure that it is kept open at all times,” a senior official stated.
He pointed out that it is not only passenger traffic that is affected, but also movement of essential commodities.
Through the vital corridor enter foodgrains, other consumables, cement, steel, iron and petroleum commodities, to name a few. Any curtailment in the movement of such commodities usually leads to sharp hike in costs in the Northeastern States.
There are two other sections inside Assam, according to NFR sources, which also have been affected by protest actions in the recent past. One is the rail route – Rangiya Division BG 2 – running south of the Brahmaputra in western Assam. The other section that witnesses blockades lies in Sivasagar district. Interestingly, protesters who impede the movement of train traffic have demands which have no links to the operations of Indian Railways.
According to Railway officials, the trains are perceived as soft targets, which protestors target at will to get quick publicity. With the advent of local television channels, the temptation to get free publicity has also increased among different political outfits.
Some parts of North Bengal, especially those with people demanding Kamatapur State, have also seen the worrying trend. As a number of trains to and from the Northeast traverse through the region, these get affected every time a blockade takes place.