Nepal Maoists halt India-aided railway survey in Nepal

Kathmandu, Oct 22 (IANS) Keeping its sights trained on India-aided projects in Nepal, the opposition Maoist party has now obstructed the survey on a railway project in southern Nepal that is being funded by the Indian government to improve transport links between the two neighbouring countries and boost trade.

A detailed engineering survey of the 68km long railway linking India’s border town Jaynagar with Nepal’s Janakpur has been started by India’s public sector undertaking RITES India Ltd as a first step to convert the narrow-gauge track into broad gauge and extend it to Bardibas town in Nepal’s Mahottari district.

This is part of the railway infrastructure development project in Nepal aided by India as per a memorandum of understanding signed between the two countries in February.

In the MoU, India has pledged to develop Nepal’s railway at five border points. These are Janakpur, (connected to Jaynagar in India), Biratnagar (linked with India’s Jogbani), Nepalganj (connected to Nepalganj Road in India), Bhairahawa (linked with Nautanwa in India) and Kakarbhitta (to be linked with India’s Jalpaiguri).

The Jaynagar-Janakpur conversion and its expansion have been accorded top priority and is expected to be completed by 2015.

According to India’s Minister of State for Railways, K.H. Muniyappa, the Indian government has allocated Rs.447 crore for this part of the project.

After RITES India had completed survey on nearly 60km, work was brought to a standstill by villagers in Bardibas under the aegis of the Maoists.

Local Maoist leader Dev Narayan Mahato was reported as saying that the survey has been stopped because the project would lead to the displacement of about 200 families and the authorities had not informed the villagers about the consequences.

The protesters were also said to have uprooted survey poles erected near the Bardibas market.

The obstruction of the survey comes a month after the Maoists warned they would stop work on nearly a dozen hydropower projects as they were against ‘national interests’. Most of these are being developed by Indian investors.

The Maoist opposition to Indian projects has been growing especially during prime ministerial elections in Nepal.

Since July, Nepal’s parties held 12 rounds of election to choose a new prime minister but failed due to squabbles over power-sharing.

Now the 13th round of election is scheduled Tuesday.

The Maoists withdrew from the race after their chief, Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, failed to win majority support even after inching very close. Prachanda’s chances were spoilt by the leaking of a taped phone conversation between a top Maoist leader and an unnamed middleman in which the Maoist leader was heard seeking NRS 500 million to bribe 50 MPs into voting for his party chief.

The Maoists allege India is preventing the formation of a Maoist-led government in Nepal and have been trying to bear pressure on New Delhi by attacking Indian investments in Nepal.

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at sudeshna.s@ians.in)

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