Meghalaya Minister Conrad K Sangma said the state government will be engaging with all stakeholders to find a way forward for the introduction of goods train till Byrnihat in Khasi Hills. Several organisations in the Khasi Hills of Meghalaya have been opposing the construction of the 20.5 km long Tetelia-Byrnihat railway line. The anti-railways groups have been protesting against the introduction of railways in the state in the absence of a foolproof mechanism to check influx of outsiders into the state.
“We will be engaging with concerned stakeholders and at least find some way forward to get a goods train if not a passenger train immediately,” the chief minister told reporters on Wednesday. Sangma said the railway line issue is slightly complicated because it is linked with so many other factors with the different organizations demanding the implementation of the Inner Line Permit (ILP).
“Our government and the Government of India is still holding on to it (ILP resolution passed by the state Assembly in 2019) ...” the CM said. He said that his government has been trying to address all issues that have been legacy issues for many years. The chief minister further stated that the government is working towards finding a path or a point where there is some kind of a consensus if not a passenger train but at least a goods train up to Byrnihat, which will benefit the people of the state.
“We want to see if there can there be an adjustment, can there be understanding and agreement that we have at least the goods train coming in by engaging with the concerned stakeholders,” he said. The chief minister said the state had witnessed during the COVID period that thousands of trucks coming in and there was a huge cost factor.
“If we have the railways then we would have been able to get the goods at a much more economical rate and at the same we would not have the exposure to truck drivers coming in and going out - so all these factors are advantages,” he stated.
When asked about the anti-railway groups' protest against the project since Meghalaya does not have any mechanism to check influx, Sangma said the government is talking about goods trains and not the passenger train. “Obviously goods train means goods and products which will be for the people and that will help the people in general so there is no question of influx when it comes to goods train."
"So can we have a meeting point where we can say at least the benefit of the goods can come to the common man and the citizens of the state, so maybe we could move in that while we discuss how we can check the infiltration part or the concerns of the different organizations,” he said.
Meghalaya entered the railway map of India when the first passenger train linking Mendipathar in North Garo Hills district with Dudhnoi in Assam was flagged off by Prime Minister Narendra Modi via a video link from Railway Stadium at Maligaon, Assam on November 29, 2014. Of the total length of 19.75 km of the Mendipathar-Dudhnoi railway line, 10.26 km falls in Assam, and 9.49 km in Meghalaya’s North Garo Hills district. "In Mendipathar, we have already started the facilitation centre where if you go and see there is some kind of checking of individuals coming, so all those things are steps that are confidence building measures.
"We are hopeful that we will be able to move this forward also as I said it is a complex issue but we are trying our best as I said we cannot resolve everything but I hope will be able to find some way forward especially when it comes to the goods train,” he added.
On the reason why Garo people have welcomed the goods train wholeheartedly unlike in the Khasi Hills region, the chief minister said that from the government's point of view it wanted that the goods train should be on both sides. He also claimed that the economy of Mendipathar has really gone up after the goods train has arrived there.
“Today people are sending their vegetables to Guwahati. People who were selling vegetables at Rs 100 – Rs 200 or Rs 300 a day are today getting Rs 2000 or Rs 3000, the different products that are coming in which used to be costing much higher in Mendipathar earlier, today are getting products that are cheaper in Mendipathar compared to Dudnoi and Krisnoi which means there is a huge economic advantage to them.” Sangma said this is clearly economic advantage and people of Garo Hills have felt that this economic advantage without really affecting the illegal immigration aspect has happened.
“Mendipathar is a very good example of that people have benefited so I hope this example can be replicated in Byrnihat where we can take advantage of the railway in terms of economic benefits for the people and yet not go into the negative or the issues that are concerning the people of illegal immigration where we don't have passengers train as of now and we start with the goods train,” he said.
The chief minister also assured that only when the people feel comfortable... will the government take the aspect of the passenger train into consideration. “Let's hope Mendipathar is a good example of that and people have benefited hugely in Garo Hills because of the goods train that has landed in Mendipathar,” he said.
- With PTI Inputs