A railway line all along Meghalaya’s 443-km-long border with Bangladesh sounds quite a dream. By making the proposal, chief minister Mukul Sangma has shown his visionary outlook. He will be remembered in the books of history, if government of India gives a go ahead to such a project, and, most importantly, if the project becomes a reality. There is a huge gap between Centre agreeing to an ambitious project and its materialisation, in Meghalaya. Unlike other states of the Northeast, there is opposition to almost every Centrally-sponsored project in the state. The much-hyped uranium mining project did not even see the light of the day. The major voice of opposition raised in other parts of the region is against big dams, which is not the case in Meghalaya. Except for a few voice of protest coming from Meghalaya-Assam border areas, mostly concerned over displacement and compensation, no prominent civil society groups spare any time for these issues. They emerged ‘victorious’ in scuttling the uranium mining project citing health hazard, but still turn a blind eye to drastic change in topography and water resources by rampant coal and limestone mining. The reasons are obvious – coal and cement yield direct income unlike uranium because the latter cannot be mined by any Tom, Dick, and Harry.
It has been decades since the Centre approved a railway line to connect the state with the rest of the country. Yet, it is far from being a reality although the Railways is hopeful of meeting the deadline of the 20-km-long Dudhnoi-Mendipathar line to connect Garo Hills by March, 2014. Keeping in view the local resistance, the state is highly unlikely to have the dream line along its international border overlooking the plains of Bangladesh. Such a project would really open the floodgates of trade with the neighbouring country, which is a massive market considering its population compared to the hilly states of Northeast. The region can exploit the advantage of superior Indian technology coupled with special incentives to tap the market of the land, which was the British India till 1947. However, it remains to be seen as to how far the state government can pursue with the Centre to get a green signal for the ‘national project’.
(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on Dec 5, 2013)