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Finally, Sikkim set to feature on railway map of India

Darjeeling: Strategically located Sikkim is all set to be connected with the railway map of the country. The Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) has agreed to furnish the No Objection Certificate for the land to be used for laying the tracks.
The railway link with Sikkim is of extreme importance, in view of the strategic location of the Himalayan state sharing borders with China, as the issue of national security comes into play.
Incidentally, Nathula, the border with China, is a mere 56km away from Gangtok. China has a railway line connecting Lhasa with Xigase. The line became operational in August 2014.
Work has started on extending the line to Yadong (Yatung), which is near the India, Bhutan and Nepal border. Yadong, a border town on the Tibetan Autonomous Region side, is a three and a half hour drive from Gangtok and a 8 hour drive from Lhasa.
The tri-junction point Doklam (India-Bhutan-China) near Nathula had been witness to a standoff between India and China in 2017.
There is a troop build-up on the Chinese side at present also. Defence observers opine that China has the infrastructural capabilities of rapid and mass troop movement, owing to the railway and road connectivity to the India border, while the same is lacking on the Indian side.
Gangtok, along with Sikkim, is yet to be connected with the railway map. During the tenure of Mamata Banerjee as the Railway minister, a 44.96 km-long railway link connecting Rongpu in Sikkim with Sevok on the Bengal side was given a go ahead.
Foundation stone for the project was laid by her on October 30, 2009. However, the project ran into complex administrative issues, including land and environmental clearances, due to which It failed to take off.
While all the clearances have been given, only the land usage NOC from GTA is pending.
A meeting between GTA and Railway top brass at Lalkothi, the GTA Secretariat in Darjeeling on Wednesday, managed to resolve the issue.
"We had kept certain pre-conditions for the benefit of the masses. The Railways have agreed to these. We will issue the required NOCs within a week," stated Binay Tamang, Chairman, Board of Administrators, GTA.
The link will be of a total length of 44.98 km, out of which 41.54 km will be in Bengal, with 3.44 km in Sikkim. 38.64km of the line will pass through 14 tunnels. There will be 22 (14 major and 8 minor) bridges.
Stations will include Sevok, Riyang near Rambi, Teesta Bazar (underground) and Melli on the Bengal side along with Rongpu on the Sikkim side.
"We had requested for 3 stations on the Bengal side. The Railways have agreed to give us four," stated Tamang.
Tamang further added that residents of this area, including forest villages, will not be disturbed as more than 80 percent of the line will pass through tunnels 1 or 2 km underground. "No one will be affected," assured the GTA leader.
The GTA had also kept a pre-condition that explosives will not be used for the tunnels as the region is highly seismic and has many fault lines.
The project was initially pegged at Rs 1,339.48 crore. "At present, it will go up to around Rs 6,000 crore," said A Prakash, Chief Administrative Officer, Operations, NF Railways.

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