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7 Jul 2018

Bengal land prod on rail link to Sikkim

Kinsuk Basu, TT, Jul 07, 2018, Calcutta: The Bengal government has asked the district magistrates of Darjeeling and Kalimpong to find out by July 31 the number of people waiting to get forest rights so that they can be compensated for land to be acquired for the Sikkim railway project.

The 52.7km rail link will connect Sevoke in North Bengal and Rangpo in Sikkim.

The project has been languishing for years since Mamata Banerjee laid the foundation in 2009 as railway minister. The project got a fresh push recently amid concerns on lack of connectivity with Sikkim.

The northeastern state has assumed strategic importance following the stand-off between India and China over Doklam.

At a recent "coordination meeting" - attended by senior officers from the PWD, transport and land departments of the state government and representatives of Eastern, South-Eastern and the Northeast Frontier Railway - it was decided that the all pending projects under the railways would be taken up on "priority basis" and obstacles facing them would be removed with immediate interventions.

While Nabanna remained tight-lipped about the attempt to fast-rack the project, sources in the railways said the government's move follows a recent criticism by railway minister Piyush Goyal that Bengal's inability to provide land for railway projects was derailing its attempts of improving connectivity in eastern and northeastern India.

Work on the Sevoke-Rongpo railway project in North Bengal began in February 2010 to connect Sikkim. The work of the laying of tracks was to be completed by 2015.

"The tracks would cut through four forest divisions. In Kalimpong, the total area that would be required is around 46.83 hectres. Some 30 families are said to be residing," said an officer of the land and land reforms department.

"The district magistrate (Kalimpong) has been asked to expedite the process of offering land rights to these families as the foundation for settling claims for compensation," he added.

Unless the land rights are offered, the claimants of the land cannot be identified and hence compensation cannot be offered.

In Darjeeling district, the total land under the consideration of the railways is around 18.6 hectares, a part of which runs through the Mahananda Wild Life Sanctuary.

"The government has already handed over 7.75 hectres of land within cinchona plantation to the railways. So if we can expedite rest of the process, a major part of the unfinished task would be done," an official said.

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