Stalled Murkongselek-Pasighat railway line grabs headlines amid escalating LAC tensions

The railway line is said to be strategic for ferrying soldiers and ammunition to the border but has been stalled due to land compensation issues


As Indo-China tensions escalate, a long-delayed 26.15 km railway project connecting Murkongselek in Assam and Pasighat in Arunachal Pradesh which was sanctioned in 2012, has found itself in the spotlight once again reported The Telegraph.

The first 2.6 kms of the broad gauge project by the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) fall in Assam while the remaining fall in Andhra Pradesh. The total sanctioned cost of the project was originally Rs. 414.85 crore in 2016, but according the government, the anticipated cost in 2020 would be Rs. 661 crore. The foundation of the project was laid by Suresh Prabhu who was the Union Railway Minister from 2014 – 2017.

The Telegraph reported that when completed, the project will be the railhead nearest to the Arunachal Pradesh-China border. The project has been delayed due to land compensation issues, but now many have asked for an early resolution, with politicians stating that the railway line could be used to ferry soldiers and ammunition in light of the tensions at the LAC. Once the land acquisition and compensation issues are resolved, the railway line will take three years to build, it was reported.

Land acquisition and compensation

As per a brief provided by the NFR on June 30, 2018, the land required in Assam is 7.10 hectares (1.79 km) and 163.61 hectares (24.36 km). The land acquisition is being carried out as per the Land Acquisition, Resettlement and Rehabilitation Act (LARRA), 2013 and the process of the same has been initiated in 2013-14.

In Phase-I, from Ch. 2.6 Km to Ch. 9.2 Km (44.10 Ha.), land acquisition proceedings have been completed and land has been handed over to NF Railway in April-2017. Payment of Rs. 69.97 crores has been made to the land owners by the Govt. of Arunachal Pradesh.

 In Phase-II, from Ch. 9.20 Km. to Ch. 27.0 Km, final notifications have been done by the State government but the award is yet to be declared by the Govt. However, DC/Pasighat has suspended the land acquisition proceedings for the time being in view of N.F. Railways letter dated 17.05.2017 addressed to Chief Secretary, Govt. of Arunachal Pradesh regarding very high rates of land (Rs. 891 per sq. m) being adopted for land acquisition. As the total land cost itself as per the rates fixed by Govt. of Arunachal Pradesh is more than Rs. 509 crores vis a vis the overall total cost of the project which is Rs. 414 crores. In such situation, the project cannot be undertaken for execution till the matter of land rates is resolved by Govt. of Arunachal Pradesh. Hence, the work is held up due to non-resolution of rates of land acquisition by State Govt. of Arunachal Pradesh.

In 2014, Rail News had reported that people in Pasighat had objected to the railway line as its construction would affect hundreds of poor farmers in the East Siang district – in the Ruksin, Silley and Pasighat circles. As per the survey carried out by NFR, the railway line was set to cover a large portion of horticulture gardens that belonged to the indigenous farmers of the district and render many farmers landless. The Railway Affected Land Owners’ Committee (RALOC) had also objected to the compensation being offered by NFR saying that it was fixed at the minimal rate which was inadequate to compensate for the loss of cropland and other properties.

As per a report by the Arunachal Times, the NFR was unhappy with the high rates given by district administration. However, the East Siang district administration dismissed NFR’s allegation that it was a member of the land compensation board and should have raised an issue when the rate was approved by the state government.

A report by Pasighat News in March 2018 had stated that Tabuk Taloh, General Secretary of the NFR Land Affected People, Phase II, had said that a team of North East Frontier Railway had consented the request for final rate of compensation as Rs. 1,191,700 per Bigha. Pasighat News reported him as saying, “The concerned NR Railway team had already negotiated with the affected people based on which compensation of Phase-I was already paid, but Phase-II’s compensation has been put on halt which has created a great sense of discontentment and disparity in the minds of people.”

It was also reported that the landowners were stopped from carrying out any agricultural activity within the surveyed area, leading to losses which also should be compensated for. Gagam Ering, the President of the NFR Land Affected People – Phase II said that the compensation rates were decided by the authorities and the land owners had to say in it, adding that Rajen Gohain’s statement saying that the project was stalled due to “high land compensation claims” was disheartening and unacceptable.

Current situation

In light of the memories of the 1962 war which had exposed India’s lack of preparedness regarding transporting soldiers and war equipment to the border and led to an overrun in town like Bomdila, The Telegraph reported Litem Eshi and Vinod Kumar Singh, freelance writers from Pasighat saying that the issue of monetary compensation to affected land owners shouldn’t stall what is important for national security.

Both Eshi and Singh told TT that the railway project was essential to smoothen the movement of men and machines to the border, especially with reports of the incursions by the Chinese troops at the Line of Actual Control (LAC).


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