Railway project stalls on land compensation rowThe construction of an 18.1-km cross-border railway linking Morang and Bihar in India has been on hold for the past year following a row over land compensation.
The construction of an 18.1-km cross-border railway linking Morang and Bihar in India has been on hold for the past year following a row over land compensation.
The government had planned to lay a broad gauge railroad track between Katahari in the eastern district of Morang and Bathnaha in the Indian state of Bihar. Work on the railway came to a halt after the Supreme Court issued an interim order in response to a petition filed by landowners that the compensation amount was inadequate.
Among the 565 landowners who collectively own 119 bighas of land in the path of the proposed railway line, 26 landholders have refused to accept payment arguing that it is too little.
Prakash Bhakta Upadhyay, spokesperson for the Department of Railways, said that landowners Shesh Narayan Majhi and Ghuran Majhi had filed a complaint at the Supreme Court against the District Administration Office in Morang and the Department of Railways.
“The case has been going on for the last one year, and it has brought work to a virtual halt.” The court has scheduled the next hearing for April 4. Work on the railway can resume only after the court gives the go-ahead.
The government has so far distributed Rs530 million in compensation. The land was acquired at prices ranging from Rs90,000 to Rs2.5 million per kattha.
A 13.1 km section of the track, extending from Katahari to Budhnagar on the border, lies in Nepal. The contractor for the project, Indian Railway Construction International, has completed tasks related to the construction of culverts and bridges. Currently, a train station with a 1,500-metre platform is being built in Budhnagar.
Ananta Acharya, director general of the department, said that the Railway Board of India has been repeatedly asking Nepali authorities to resolve the land compensation issue.
“We have held a meeting with representatives of the District Administration Office, Indian Railways and landowners dissatisfied with the compensation,” he said, adding that the meeting had decided to act according to the court verdict. “However, we have urged the landowners not to obstruct the construction process while we wait for the court ruling.”
Morang Chief District Officer Ram Prasad Acharya said that they had been urging the landholders to allow construction work to continue. The ongoing dispute is over land situated in the northern part of the Biratnagar-Rangeli road.
Construction work on the southern side has not been affected. The Indian government is providing Rs4.48 billion for the railway project. According to the bilateral agreement signed between the two countries, Nepal is responsible for providing the land, while India will construct the infrastructure.
The governments of Nepal and India had planned to complete the project in 2018, but land compensation disputes and the 2015 Indian trade blockade led to time overruns. The construction of waiting rooms and a railway office at the Budhnagar station has been completed. One of the three planned railway platforms has been completed.
The railway station at Budhnagar is 1,500 metres long and 150 metres wide. Four residential houses are being constructed for railway officers. Work related to the filling of soil, gravelling and culverts from Bathnaha to the Biratnagar-Rangeli road has been complete.
The government plans to extend the railway to Itahari on the East-West Highway. The Indian government has agreed to extend railway lines to three other border points—Kakarbhitta in the east, Bhairahawa and Nepalgunj in the west—after the Bathnaha-Biratnagar-Katahari and Jayanagar-Janakpur-Bardibas railway lines are completed.