Assam youths protest outside Didi's home

KOLKATA: Even as railway minister Mamata Banerjee was busy in Lalgarh, a group of youths from Assam's Barak Valley held a demonstration outside her Kalighat residence in south Kolkata on Monday to protest the delay in converting the Lumding-Silchar railway line into broad gauge.

The "indefinite hunger strike", staged by All Barak Youths and Students Association (ABYSA), was withdrawn, however, after Union minister of state Dinesh Trivedi and Mamata's close aides in the railway ministry talked to them, promising speedy action. It was learned that Mamata herself had asked Trivedi to talk to the agitators when she heard about the dharna while going to Lalgarh.

ABYSA leader Baharul Islam Barbhuyan said progress on the gauge conversion of the Lumding-Silchar railway line, important for people staying in the Barak Valley, Tripura, Mizoram and Manipur, had been tardy. Though the project was started in 1996 and declared a national project in 2004, only 37% of the work had been completed till now.

According to him, a bottleneck was at "the No. 10 tunnel", over 3 km long, just beyond New Haflong station. Barbhuyan feared that a "transport lobby" could be active to delay the process of gauge conversion. While travellers mainly use long-distance buses on the route, foodgrain and other items to Barak Valley in Assam and the three northeastern states are ferried mostly in trucks. He blamed the "contractor and transport lobby" even for some of the underground activities in the area and attacks on railway employees engaged in gauge conversion work.

At Mamata"s residence, the ABYSA representatives were assured that the railway ministry would talk to the office of the general manager, construction, of Northeast Frontier Railway so that steps are taken to expedite the work within seven days.

According to a railway website, a reason for the delay in progress of work is the poor condition of the Lumding-Silchar highway.