Belonia subdivision of South Tripura may emerge as a point of connectivity as plans are underway to connect it with Myanmar’s Sittwe Port via Bangladesh’s Feni by railway. The Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) authorities inspected Belonia railway station as well as Muhurighat integrated checkpost in the subdivision on 1 and 2 February. The authorities were led by senior section engineer Rajendra Prasad Deka in the company of Belonia constituency’s MLA Arun Chandra Bhowmik.
The distance between Agartala and Belonia is 68 kms.
Speaking to reporters, Rajendra Prasad Deka said, “The railway connectivity between Belonia and Feni in Chittagong shall give Tripura access to Myanmar’s Sittwe port. And this shall facilitate cargo transportation in Northeast India and reduce freight charges as well.”
Adding that the matter has been prioritised by the government of India, he said, “The Bangladesh government as well has progressed in surveying the nascent railway connectivity between Feni and Belonia.”
“However, we have asked the Bangladesh government to convert the Feni railway line from meter-gauge to broad-gauge. That would make things easy because India uses broad-gauge railway connectivity,” said NFR’s Senior Section Engineer.
Rajendra Prasad Deka further added that construction of a 3-km railway line between Belonia and Feni is now at an initial stage. The whole issue was first raised with the Indian government in 2010. This was followed by several rounds of talks between India and Bangladesh.
Belonia MLA Arun Chandra Bhowmik told reporters that he raised the issue with Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb. Subsequently, the CM broached the issue with the government of India. And thus, India’s railway ministry is taking the matter seriously.
The people of Belonia had access to Feni, Chittagong and Dhaka via railways since the epoch of pre-independent India. However, this connectivity was snapped in 1997.
The distance between Belonia Railway Station (India) and Belonia Railway Station (Bangladesh) is 2.75 km. The Belonia Station of Bangladesh is situated in Parshuram sub-district of Feni. Again, the Bangladeshi portion of Belonia is located 165 kms away from Dhaka.
According to late historian Haribhusan Pal in ‘Janapada Beloniar Itibritto’ (History of Belonia), “It was during the British era that Assam Bengal Railway (ABR) commissioned railway service through the Belonia Railway Station of present-day Bangladesh. The people of Belonia in Tripura used to travel to Chittagong and Dhaka via the Feni junction. Following partition, the people of Belonia used to travel to Agartala via this junction itself. They initially landed in Akhaura from Feni district. And from Akhaura, they used to travel to Agartala by foot.”
Pavel Das, a civil engineer based in Belonia said, “The ABR acquired an overall 277 acres of land from 25 villages in compliance with a Government order on 17 Dec, 1927. The Belonia-Feni railway track was commissioned in 1929. There were eight railway stations between the Belonia-Feni route – Bondhua, Daulatpur, Anandapur, Pirbox Munshir Haat, Notun Munshir Haat, Fulgazi, Parshuram and Belonia.”
“Owing to the lack of road connectivity, this railway track was the medium of communication as well as economic development for Parshuram, Fulgazi and other places north of Feni. However, owing to losses incurred, the Belonia-Feni railway service was shut down on 17 August, 1997,” added Das.
* Shilajit Kar Bhowmik is a freelance writer in Agartala, India