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India, Bangladesh to resume Haldibari-Chilahati rail service after 55 years to secure "chicken's neck"

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 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.
Until 1965, when the India-Pakistan war took place, trains used to ply on this route. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bangladesh counterpart Shiekh Hasina are expected to inaugurate this route on December 16, which is observed at the Vijay Diwas marking Dhaka’s victory over Pakistani armed forces, the reports said. 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, on condition of anonymity told IndiaNarrative.

“The area is of strategic importance to India as it the gateway to the northeast and the eastern part of India. The area especially around Nath-La Pass and even Doklam has seen several conflicts and now with an aggressive and increasingly belligerent China, India needs to protect this region. In case any other external force manages to break this corridor, India’s connectivity with the north east will be cut off,” the analyst said, adding that the new rail route will also boost trade between the two neighbours.

Besides, there has also been demand from people from both sides to resume the rail service. 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 Maitres 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.

“The BBIN project is important for the region and we will expedite it. Bhutan will play an important role and through this the country will get access to ports. The project is beneficial to all member countries which are closely linked to each other for trade and other economic co-operation. We are keen to give it shape since it will increase regional connectivity and increase trade and not because of other any external factors or countries,”Gopal Krishna Agarwal, BJP’s spokesperson on economic affairs said..