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India’s Plan to Build Highest Rail Line on China Border Hits Fund Block

© AP Photo / Anupam NathIndian army soldiers patrol at the Indo China border in Bumla at an altitude of 15,700 feet (4,700 meters) above sea level in Arunachal Pradesh, India. (File)
Indian army soldiers patrol at the Indo China border in Bumla at an altitude of 15,700 feet (4,700 meters) above sea level in Arunachal Pradesh, India. (File) - Sputnik International
Despite the urgency shown by the Indian defense ministry to complete four rail lines along the China border, the arrangement of $50 billion for the 1,350-kilometer project seems an uphill task for the Narendra Modi government.

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New Delhi (Sputnik) — In a bid to strengthen infrastructure along the China border, India government will conduct the final location survey of the Bilaspur-Manali-Leh line at Leh in Jammu and Kashmir this week. This 498-kilometer rail network will pass at a height of 3,300 meters which makes it to the highest rail track in the world, overtaking China's Qinghai-Tibet Railway. India's railway minister Suresh Prabhu will inaugurate the final survey work funded by defense ministry on June 27.

"The project involves the construction of 498-km railway line through Bilaspur, Mandi, Kullu and Lahaul-Spiti districts of Himachal Pradesh and passes through Zoji La, Kargil to Leh. We want to complete the final survey work by the first quarter of 2019 and laying work of rail track by 2022," an official told Sputnik.

Bilaspur-Manali-Leh is one of the four lines which were identified by India's defense ministry in 2014 to build on an urgent basis and is likely to be used for supplies for the Army and troop movement in times of need. Other projects include 378-kilometer Missamari-Tenga-Tawang line in Arunachal Pradesh, the 227-kilometer Pasighat-Tezu-Rupai and North Lakhimpur-Bame (Along)-Silapathar of 249 kilometers. All these lines are along the Indo-China border.

It is estimated that the Leh project will cost approximately $5 billion to the Indian government while these four strategic lines will require approximately $48 billion for completion. But funding for the project seems problematic within the different departments of the government as it was evident from a parliamentary panel report that despite getting approval for final location survey in October 2014, the defense ministry did not provide the required fund of $51.8 million to the railways for next two years.

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It had been decided that these 4 identified strategic lines will be fully funded by either the defense ministry or finance ministry, and the grant for these strategic lines are given over and above yearly budgetary support through a separate window while costs for final location survey will be provided by the defense ministry.

"Final location survey involves detailed study of topographical features (creation of digital elevation model based on satellite imagery), detailed geological investigation/mapping, geophysical, geotechnical examination, etc., and consultation with tunneling and geological experts. After finalization of alignment, the exact length of bridges and tunnels can be ascertained and thereafter cost estimate can be firmed up," India's Parliamentary Standing Committee on Railway said in its report.

Indian Railway has begun feasibility study at Missamari-Tenga-Tawang rail line March this year. China has opposed this line as it considers Tawang as the southern part of Tibet while the Indian government's consistent with its approach for decades that Tawang is an integral part of India. Last year in July, Bilaspur-Manali-Leh project had received approvals for carrying out the construction activities and final location survey.

In January this year, India's Minister for Highway and Road Transport Nitin Gadkari announced that $7.5 billion will be spent on road construction projects in the next five years for Arunachal Pradesh. Meanwhile, China has been asking India to adopt a cautious and restrained attitude on infrastructure development issue in the areas where consensus has not been reached between the countries. Both the countries accuse each other of occupying thousands of square kilometers from Jammu and Kashmir to Arunachal Pradesh.



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