Centre’s goal of providing rail connectivity to all the state capitals in the Northeast by 2020 is unlikely to happen at least in Meghalaya.
Thanks to some pressure groups that keep on opposing the introduction of railway lines in the hill state in name of influx problem, an issue being raised by them right after creation of Meghalaya till now.
The fear of influx, for the pressure groups, means inflow of outsiders or non-tribals to Meghalaya.
But an irony is, Shillong which is the state capital of Meghalaya, has been dominated by non-tribals. Even business activities in main commercial areas like Ïewduh and Khyndai Lad (Police Bazaar) areas and other places are dominated by non-indigenous people even when railway lines has not been introduced.
There were high expectations from many in Meghalaya’s Khasi and Jaiñtia Hills that at least goods train should be allowed to ply to Byrnihat in Ri-Bhoi district.
Not to talk about linking Shillong with railway lines, just the move of the Centre to connect Byrnihat with Tetelia in Assam by railway lines has been met with roadblock for several decades till today, mainly because of the “fear for influx”.
Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura are connected by rail, but the capitals of Mizoram, Meghalaya, Manipur, Sikkim and Nagaland are yet to be connected.
But works are in progress in other states, except Meghalaya.
Meghalaya government officials are keeping mum about the status of railway projects in the state including the Tetelia-Byrnihat railway lines.
“As of now, things are yet to move in right direction as far as linking Shillong with railway lines is concerned. We have not been able to first link Byrnihat till now,” an official said.
The official also cited land acquisition issue.
The Khasi and Jaiñtia hills of Meghalaya are to be connected by railway line from Assam’s Tetelia to Byrnihat and then Byrnihat to Shillong.
Construction of the 20.5km railway line from Tetelia in Assam to Byrnihat in Meghalaya came to a standstill within the territory of Meghalaya following violent protest by the Khasi Students Union (KSU) at the railway project site at Ronghana village in Ri-Bhoi district on May 27, 2017.
A railway station is to be built at Ronghana village.
About 2.3km of the railway line falls within Meghalaya and the rest falls in Assam.
The KSU said that it would start discussing about the need to have railway line only after the Meghalaya government implemented strong mechanisms to check influx.
Ri-Bhoi deputy commissioner Rosette M Kurbah said that construction of the Tetelia-Byrnihat line has been stopped and the railways is yet to receive a ‘no objection certificate’ for utilising the land till now from the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC).
She admitted that issue related to influx is also one of the reasons that railway projects could not progress.
Earlier, the Centre allocated fund for both the projects–Tetelia-Byrnihat and Byrnihat-Shillong– close to Rs 8,000 crore.
Last year, Meghalaya chief ministers Conrad K Sangma said that all stakeholders would be taken on board and discuss how to move forward.
“It is an important economic development that is there in every part of the world. We feel it will change the economic scenario in our state, and it is an important infrastructure that our state requires. There are lot of concerns among our people and different organizations. It is the duty of the government to understand that, so that the local sentiments are not hurt. So, we need to balance it out, and take things forward,” Sangma had said.
The railways ministry would spend almost Rs 90,000 crore to improve railway connectivity in the Northeast by 2020.