Nepal will not allow people from third countries to travel to India via the new cross-border Kurtha-Jayanagar rail link after Indian officials expressed security concerns, a senior official of the Railways Department has said
Nepal will not allow people from third countries to travel to India via the new cross-border Kurtha-Jayanagar rail link after Indian officials expressed security concerns, a senior official of the Railways Department has said.
“This was agreed to while finalizing the Standard Operating Procedure (SPA) for cross-border railway operation,” said Deepak Kumar Bhattarai, director general at the department, the Kathmandu Post reported. The SPA is a document outlining the procedures to be adopted while operating the railway service, UNI news agency said.
Nepal and India signed the SPA in New Delhi last month. After this New Delhi handed over the 34.9km Kurtha-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.
Nepal still does not have a 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.
Nepal Railway Company in September had sacked over 150 staff hired by the previous government, leaving the company virtually staff-less.
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.
Under grant assistance of Government of India, the gauge conversion of the 34.9 km narrow gauge section into broad gauge, from Jaynagar in India (Madhubani district in Bihar), to Kurtha in Nepal (Dhansua district) was completed in October.
The 34.9 km Jaynagar-Kurtha section is part of the 68.72 km Jaynagar-Bijalpura-Bardibas rail link being built under Government of India grant assistance of Nepali Rs 8.77 billion. This section was earlier a narrow gauge rail link between Jayanagar and Bijalpura.
There are total eight stations and halts on the Jaynagar-Kurtha section, which includes the historically important city of Janakpur.
Once operationalized, this would be the first broad gauge cross-border rail link between India and Nepal, and would further boost trade and commerce activities as well as people to people linkages between the two countries.