Nepal won’t allow third country nationals to travel to India by railPreparations underway to bring ordinance and operate the Kurtha-Jayanagar rail service by December.
Nepal will not allow people from third countries to travel to India by rail via the Kurtha-Jayanagar railroad after Indian officials expressed security concerns, a senior official of the Department of Railways said.
“This was agreed while finalizing the Standard Operating Procedure (SPA) for cross-border railway operation,” said Deepak Kumar Bhattarai, director general at the department. The SPA is a document outlining the procedures to be adopted while operating the railway service.
Nepal and India signed the SPA in New Delhi last month. After this the southern neighbour handed over the 34.9km Kurta-Jayanagar section of the railway infrastructure to Nepal on October 22. The new infrastructure was built for broad gauge railway operation by replacing old infrastructure for narrow-gauge railway service, which had stopped seven and a half years ago.
The country still does not have the law to govern railway operations. As a result, two Diesel Electric Multiple Unit train sets procured in September last year have been lying idle in Janakpur.
“Initially, the Indian side had proposed that third country nationals should be completely barred from using the railway service,” said Bhattarai, adding, “But we rejected the proposal. Then both sides agreed that even third country nationals can travel on the railway within Nepal but they won’t be allowed to cross over to India.”
According to Bhattarai, India’s security concern was one of the reasons why it took so long to finalize the SPA. With Nepal and India sharing a porous border, the Indian establishment has always been suspicious about the possibility of criminals and terrorists using the porous border to cause harm to India. Both sides have suffered from cross-border crimes over the last several years.
According to Bhattarai, Nepal will also notify India about the passengers on board to ensure security clearance at the border point. “Based on the ticket issued, we will have to send details of the passengers traveling to India,” he said.
Even though the SPA was finalized, it is not clear when the railway service will resume with the Nepal government yet to introduce a law on railway service and the Nepal Railway Company yet to hire staff to operate the service.
Keshav Kumar Sharma, joint secretary at the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport told the Post that the ministry was preparing to send a new draft ordinance on railway to the cabinet.
As it takes a long time to bring new laws due to lengthy parliamentary procedures, the government plans to introduce an ordinance to operate the service at the earliest date.
In fact, there was a law in the form of an ordinance introduced by then KP Sharma Oli-led government on May 5. But, it became void after the government failed to ensure parliamentary endorsement of the ordinance on time.
The current Sher Bahadur Deuba-led government had tabled the ordinance on July 18 in parliament but it became void after the government failed to get a parliamentary nod within 60 days (by September 16) of its tabling in the House. Sharma said the new ordinance would be more or less the same as the past ordinance.
Likewise, Nepal Railway Company in September had sacked over 150 staff hired by the previous government, leaving the company virtually staffless.
Sharma said that the ministry has already instructed the company to hire new staff on a temporary basis. But, the company has yet to start the recruitment process.
The government is planning to reduce the number of road and railroad intersections along the Kurtha-Jayanagar Railway line to reduce the possibility of accidents.
Officials, however, said that they aimed to resume the operation of the railway by the end of this year—2021.
When the railway service comes into operation, Nepal will have a modern railway service for the first time. Earlier, there was a narrow gauge railroad from Janakpur to Jaynagar that had served people from 1937 to January 2014.The railroad was first laid as a cargo line to carry timber from Nepal to India. After dismantling the narrow gauge track, a new broad gauge was laid with the assistance of the Indian government. The work was completed in late 2019.