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TRAIN TRAVEL

Off the rails

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Driven by the irrational fear of outsiders, trade unions and civil society organisations in Meghalaya have refused to let any train lines be laid.

The northeastern hill state of Meghalaya will, in the coming years, have the dubious distinction of being the only state that doesn't figure in the country's rail map. Because it simply doesn't want that to happen. The state's powerful students' unions and civil society organisations have been consistently opposing moves over the past few decades to extend the existing railway lines from Assam to parts of Meghalaya. But the Khasi Students' Union (KSU) and a wide spectrum of youth, women's and civil society organisations as well as many prominent NGOs have been opposing this. The reason?

"Trains will increase the flow of outsiders into our state. Even Bangladeshis will find it easier to come in. All railway employees, as well as porters and vendors at any station, will be 'dkhars' (the Khasi term for any non-Khasi ) and over time, we'll be outnumbered by the 'dkhars'. We're opposing the rail link proposal to protect out culture and existence, " senior KSU office-bearer Roland Marbaniang told TOI-Crest.

A proposal to construct a rail-head at Byrnihat, a miniindustrial hub and a few kilometres away from the state's border with Assam, was mooted in the early-1980 s by the Railway Board and the state government.

But the KSU and other bodies launched a popular agitation and the proposal had to be shelved. Successive state governments have tried to revive the proposal, but in vain. "An irrational fear exists that a rail link would bring in outsiders. We've tried so many times to make the KSU and these other organisations see reason, but to no effect. The rail ministry had even proposed to extend the rail head from Byrnihat to (state capital ) Shillong and eventually to Sohra (erstwhile Cherrapunjee). That would have boosted tourism and brought down the cost of transporation of goods to and from this land-locked state and also reduced vehicular pollution caused by thousands of trucks, buses and smaller vehicles going our and coming into the state, " said a senior state transport official who has been involved in the futile and belaboured efforts to make the opponents of the project see reason.

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