In a decision that will have huge geopolitical implications, India and Bangladesh have decided to resume Trans-border railway connectivity between Haldibari in West Bengal and Chilahati located across the border in Nilphamari district in Bangladesh after almost 55 years.
The move will not only boost India-Bangladesh ties but will also open up connectivity for New Delhi with the North-Eastern part and other bordering countries while reducing emerging vulnerabilities, especially at a time when an aggressive China is making steady inroads in the region through its much hyped Belt and Road Initiative.
The Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina are expected to inaugurate this route on December 17 as per sources. The rail service is expected to resume from March 26, Bangladesh’s Independence Day.
Haldibari, in Cooch Behar is strategically located. It is just 75 kilometres away from the critical Siliguri Corridor marking the 22 kilometre “Chicken Neck” that connects the rest of India with the north eastern states and other countries including Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan.
“The rail service will be very important for India as it will provide the much required access to New Delhi to the North-Eastern part and other neighbouring countries,” a foreign policy expert said.
Many Bangladeshis visit the region every year. While many of them come for trade and healthcare reasons, there is a large number of tourists as well. In the initial stage though, the Haldibari-Chilahati rail service could be restricted for cargo purpose.
At present, India is connected with Bangladesh through four border links — Petrapole-Benapole, Singhabad-Rohanpur, Gede-Darshana and Radhikapur-Birol besides having one trans-border passenger train service, the Maitree Express. The Maitree Express connects Kolkata with Dhakaand Khulna.
India is also looking at fast-tracking the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India Nepal (BBIN) initiative which will boost connectivity among the South Asian neighbours through rail and road.