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Ultras threaten Assam railway project
K Anurag in Guwahati | September 01, 2006 17:25 IST
Constant threat from gun-toting extremists has thrown a spanner into the Rs 1500 crore gauge conversion project in Assam.
Gauge conversion work between Lumding and Silchar through north Cachar Hills of Assam has come to a grinding halt as contractors scared of militants have decided to suspend work with immediate effect.
The Black Widow militant group operating in the hill districts of Assam has destroyed a Rs 60 lakh excavator engaged in the project to terrorize the contractors to submission. As the contractors have decided to suspend work instead of striking a deal with the militants, the strategic railway project has plunged into uncertainty.
Representatives of the 13 construction companies engaged in the project on Friday said that they were left with only two options -- surrender to militants' threat and suspend work. And they opted to suspend the work.
The Black Widow is a splinter tribal militant group of the Dima Halam Daogah that is now in truce and engaged in peace process with the government of India. A faction of the DHD opposed to the peace process broke away to form the Black Widow.
The Naga rebel group, the NSCN-IM is suspected to have backed the Black Widow to maintain its influence in the north Cachar Hills district of Assam. The NSCN-IM wants part of the N C Hills district of Assam in its proposed greater Nagaland (Nagalim).
According to an NF Railway, only 37 per cent work on the project had been completed so far. The work was started in the year 1996-97 and has been under constant threat of militants. The 171-km project is considered a technological marvel of the Indian railway.
The original metre gauge track that was laid by British engineers was with 108 tunnels. The railway track in the hilly terrain has travelled up to 4000 ft above the sea level with a steep 23 per cent gradient in some areas beside the bending bridges that have now become a major attraction for tourists.
The project was aimed to be completed in March 2009, but that has now become a distant dream given frequent interruption of works due to threat from militants that are out to extort money from contractors. There are many major bridges to be constructed along the entire route. The track is of great importance as it serves as the only railway supply route for the states of Mizoram, Tripura and even Manipur.