Thukten Zangpo  

The Government of India has allocated INR 1,200 billion for the expansion and development of railway infrastructure in the northeastern region of India; a timely boost for the much-anticipated first Bhutan – India railway link.

The 57.5-kilometer railway line between Kokrajhar in Assam, India, and Gelephu in Sarpang, Bhutan is to be constructed at an estimated cost of INR 10 billion which will be funded by the Indian government. The project is expected to be completed by 2026.

Just a month ago, India’s External Affairs Minister, S Jaishankar said that discussions were underway between India and Bhutan for a railway link between the two countries, according to Indian media reports.

“We are in talks on the rail link between Bhutan and Assam. Bhutan is very keen to open more points for tourists, and it is very good for Assam,” S Jaishankar said. “A railway link from Gelephu-Kokrajhar is being explored on the Assam border which could promote both trade and tourism.”

This railway connection holds the promise of fostering economic growth, particularly for the export of goods, facilitating cultural exchange, and strengthening ties between the two countries.

In 2008, the then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, announced during his visit to Bhutan, the construction of the Nehru Golden Jubilee Railway link to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s historic visit to Bhutan in 1958.

Subsequently, India-Bhutan railway plan was discussed during the Prime Minister’s first visit to India in 2018.

The 18-kilometre railway was intended to link Toribari in Phuentsholing in Bhutan and Hashimara in West Bengal, India with a survey carried out in 2020. However, the project could not take off since the railway had to be built through tea states.

The construction of the Gelephu-Kokrajhar rail link will set off prospects of more railway construction in the southern and eastern parts of the country like Samtse, Phuentsholing, Nganglam, and Samdrupjongkhar.

Bhutan and India signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2005 to link the bordering towns of the two countries by railway.