Agartala: The supply of foodgrains and other essentials to Tripura, Mizoram, parts of Manipur and southern Assam would be severely affected due to gauge conversion of railway lines from next week, officials said on Saturday.
The railway lines would be converted from metre gauge to broad gauge. For this, the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) would stop train services in Tripura, western Manipur, Mizoram and southern Assam from Oct 1.
"The 18-month-long gauge conversion works from Assam's Lumding to Tripura's Agartala would start on October 1 and would continue till March 2016," an NFR official said.
The railway line is broad gauge from Assam's main city of Guwahati up to Lumding (in southern Assam). From Lumding, Tripura's capital Agartala and western Manipur, Mizoram and southern Assam, the railway link with the rest of India is single and 110-112 years-old metre gauge.
The 437-km long Lumding-Agartala metre gauge railway line, part of which is in Assam and the remaining in Tripura, would be converted into broad gauge in two phases.
The Lumding-Agartala metre-gauge rail link connects Bairabi in northern Mizoram and Jiribam in western Manipur with the rest of the country.
Tripura Transport Minister manik Dey said: "The Tripura government has repeatedly asked the NFR authorities and the union government to reschedule its gauge conversion work or to simultaneously undertake the works both in Assam and Tripura to avoid the crisis."
The Tripura government has also requested the Food Corporation of India (FCI) to build a buffer stock of rice and other essential commodities for Tripura.
Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar earlier this month held a meeting with NFR general manager RS Virdi and general manager (construction) Rajesh Kumar Singh and other top officials of the railways, FCI and Tripura government.
"The chief minister asked the railway officials to take up gauge conversion work concurrently both in Assam and Tripura to complete the work early," Dey added.
Tripura's three members of parliament - Jitendra Chaudhury, Sankar Prasad Datta (both Lok Sabha) and Jharna Das Baidya (Rajya Sabha) - in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week urged him to ask the railway authorities to complete the gauge conversion work in Tripura by March 2015 along with southern Assam to minimise the distresses of people and crisis of supply of foodgrains and essentials.
Surface connectivity is an important factor as the landlocked northeastern states are surrounded by Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan and China.
The only land corridor to the northeastern states from India is through Assam and West Bengal and this route passes through over 70 percent hilly terrain with steep roads and multiple hairpin bends.
Carrying of food, essentials and heavy machinery for several northeastern states via Bangladesh from different parts of India is much easier. For instance, Agartala via Guwahati is 1,650 km from Kolkata and 2,637 km from New Delhi, while the distance between Agartala and Kolkata via Bangladesh is just about 350 km.
In a first, a 5,000 tonnes consignment, of a total of 10,000 tonnes, of rice carried in small ships from Kakinada port in Andhra Pradesh reached Ashuganj river port in Bangladesh via Kolkata August 5. From Ashuganj, 40 km from Agartala, Bangladeshi trucks have ferried the rice to FCI warehouses in Nandannagar near Agartala city.
In 2012, Bangladesh had allowed India's state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) to ferry heavy machinery, turbines and cargo through Ashuganj port for the 726 MW Palatana mega power project in southern Tripura.