GOLAKGANJ, March 28 – A new broad gauge (BG) railway line connecting New Mainaguri, Mathabbanga, Chengrabandha and Coochbehar to Jogighopa via Boxirhat, Dhubri, Gauripur and other places has been a long-standing demand of the people in the Jalpaiguri and Coochbehar districts of West Bengal and the Dhubri, Bongaigaon, Goalpara and parts of Kokrajhar districts of Assam, besides the East Garo Hills and West Garo Hills districts of Meghalaya.
Around 80 per cent of the people of these areas belong to the poor strata of the society. There has been no industrial development in the region, mainly due to the lack of adequate infrastructure facilities, including a railway network. However, the demand has been overlooked by the Railway authorities since the past 50 years.
Transportation facilities available before Independence have also been discontinued. Before Independence, this part of the country was connected to mainland India through then undivided Bengal (now Bangladesh). Besides a rail link, the region was connected to Kolkata through the Brahmaputra river. Dhubri town was then the biggest inland river port of Assam. The airport at Rupshi was constructed during World War II and the one at Coochbehar was constructed much earlier. But they remain unutilised today.
The joint convener of the New Mainaguri-Jogighopa Railway Demand Committee, Tazmul Hoque said all the transport links had been snapped after Independence, and that the people of the area have been virtually cut off from mainstream national life.
All the districts concerned in Assam, North Bengal and Meghalaya seeking the proposed railway line are rich in forest wealth. Sal, sishu, segun, bonsom, gamari and numerous other varieties of valuable trees grow in abundance in the forests of these areas. Moreover, bamboo, cane, pati bet (a variety of cane used in making mats), medicinal plants and herbs, orchids, resins and other varieties of plants, trees and forest produce are abundantly available in the forests of the region.
The region is also rich in mineral resources. Dolomite, an essential raw material for the production of cement and coal, is available in the two districts concerned of Meghalaya. Dolomite is also available in the Jalpaiguri district of North Bengal.
The proposed railway line from New Mainaguri to Jogighopa and other places covers a distance of 270 km approximately. The earth work for the construction of the rail route is likely to cost much less as compared to other places. This proposed railway line will help optimum utilisation of the Naranarayan Setu over the Brahmaputra river at Jogighopa, which is a road-cum- railway bridge. The total cost for the construction of the proposed line is estimated to be Rs 1,400 crore.
The proposed railway line passing through the districts of West Bengal and Assam bordering Bangladesh, now a friendly country, will be strategically important from the defence point of view too. The demand is justified in view of the fact that the per capita railway in the region is very negligible and much below the national average.
The demand for expansion of the railway network in the region was raised at the conventions at Tufanganj (Coochbehar district) and Bijni (erstwhile Goalpara district) in 1961. The then Northeast Frontier General Manager, late BC Ganguly took some initiative in this regard; but subsequently, the matter was abandoned by the Railway authorities for reasons best known to them.
Recently, the joint convener of the New Mainaguri-New Coochbehar-Dhubri-Jogigopha Railway Extension Demand Committee submitted a memorandum to the Railway Minister of India for the construction of the BG line immediately.