Saturday, October 31, 2009
Rangpo/Sevoke, Oct. 30: Eighty-year-old Ratna Bahadur Rai wants to live for at least five more years. Reason: his half-a-century old aspiration to board a train from Sikkim to reach Siliguri.
As Vice-President M. Hamid Ansari today laid the foundation stone for a landmark railway project to connect Rangpo to Sevoke, Rai cheered along with thousands of others. The old man had trekked from Mazitar to the Mining Stadium Ground in Rangpo to witness the event which will for the first time place the Himalayan state on the railway map of India. The railway link is expected to be extended to Gangtok, around 40km from Rangpo, the town on the Sikkim-Bengal border.
“I huffed and puffed as I walked the hilly terrain, but I was determined to come to Rangpo. In the 50s, when I was a little more than 20 years old, I used to carry oranges, ginger and wool bought from Tibetan traders on bullock carts to reach Geillkhola near Kalimpong,” recollected Rai. “The goods were loaded on the little train that used to chug out of the station everyday to Siliguri. I had always wanted to board the train but could not as after some years, the service was discontinued because of landslide. It used to take 24 hours for a return journey from Geillkhola to Rangpo.”
Ansari, who considers the plan to connect Sikkim to the rest of the country by trains an engineering achievement, had a word of appreciation for the Indian Railways. “It was only recently that a train was flagged off in a similar hilly terrain in Jammu and Kashmir. The effort of the railway ministry is appreciable and we look forward for execution of this project which was a long-drawn aspiration of Sikkim residents.”
Sikkim chief minister Pawan Chamling, who was present at the event with governor Balmiki Prasad Singh, thanked the railways. “Today is a red letter day for Sikkim. So far, the sole means of communication was NH31A. It is good our state has now been included in the rail map and we look forward to see the route extended to Gangtok and trains leaving from our state capital in the coming years.”
“If we can lay railway tracks in Jammu and Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh, we can do the same in Sikkim. We have come here only after passing the work orders and allocating Rs 1,400 crore for it.”
The laying of foundation stone has not only brought communication hopes but fuelled job expectations as well.
Ajit Raphel, a second year student of ITI Rangpo, was seen sitting at the venue with a group of friends. “We are being technically trained and opening of rail route will definitely help us get more job opportunities,” he said.
Foundation stone laid in Rangpo, Mamata’s convoy rushed to Sevoke to lay another foundation stone for the same project. She announced an award of Rs 10 lakh for the NFR for performing well.