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Bengal: Over a Decade After Land Acquisition, Jangalmahal Still Awaits Rail Connectivity

Thousands of people in the Jangalmahal area have united and started a movement demanding the building of the railway connection.
people of Jangalmahal, Bankura organished rally and assembled for mass meeting in khatra, demanding Chhatna- mukutmonipur Railways.

People of Jangalmahal, Bankura, organised a rally and assembled for a mass meeting in Khatra, demanding Chhatna-Mukutmonipur Railways.

Bankura: Around 70% of the land needed for the Mukutmonipur Railway line was acquired 13 years ago, and soil-filling work was completed in parts of the land. However, the Chhatna- Mukutmonipur Railway work has not progressed even slightly this decade. 

People of Jangalmahal in Bankura district have been asking who is responsible for them being deprived of rail services for years. Thousands of people in the Jangalmahal area have united and started a movement demanding the building of the railway connection.

"Our only demand is that we want railway in Jangal Mahal," said Madhu Sudan Mahato, Convenor of the Prostabito Mukutmonipur Rail Prokolpo Committee (Proposed Mukutmonipuss Rail Project Committee). 

Amid this, the Union rail minister has written to Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to acquire land for the railway line.

Locals told NewsClick that they do not want to see political drama by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is an opposition party in the state, ahead of the general elections. 

In 2019, BJP candidate Dr Subash Sarkar won the Bankura Lok Sabha constituency. A large part of Jangalmahal falls within this constituency. Now, Sarkar is the Union Minister of State for Education. He allegedly did not mention a word about this railway line in the last five years of parliamentary sessions. 

On the other hand, people say the Bengal government has to answer why they remained silent on the issue for so long. 

Trinamool Congress candidate Jyostna Mandi has been elected as a member of the legislative Assembly from Ranibandh constituency. She is now the food Minister in the West Bengal government. Despite having two ministers of central and state governments from the Jangalmahal area for the first time, people's demands have been ignored, and the Chhatna- Mukutmonipur Rail project has been stalled for 13 years.

After 76 years of independence, the people of Jangalmahal's Ranibadh, Raipur, Sarenga, Simlapal, Hirbandh, Taldangra, Khatra and Indpur blocks are still deprived of Railway services. They have rallied many times in the past to demand rail connectivity in these areas. 

Left Front MLAs have deputed several railway Ministers demanding Rail services for Jangalmahal. Particularly, the former MP of Bankura, Basudeb Aacharya, has consistently raised the issue in the Parliament. Due to his efforts, in 2004, when he was MP of Bankura and Chairman of the Railway Standing Committee of Parliament, the Ministry of Railways sanctioned the Chhatna-Mukutmonipur new railway project. The initial fund was also allocated from the Ministry of Railways. 

"In 2005, a decision was taken to acquire the land in a meeting with Bankura District Magistrate. In January 2006, the required amount of land for this project was discussed. The state government approved it. The estimate was prepared and sent to the Ministry of Railway. Government, private, and forest land were identified. Forest land acquisition permission was obtained. In return, it was decided to give an equal amount of land to the forest department," said Basudeb Aacharia. 

He reiterated that after sending notice and hearing the land owners, the land acquisition started. On January 8, 2008, the Ministry of Railway paid 12 crores 81 lakh 30 thousand rupees for land acquisition. Land acquisition was started from Chhatna and Bheduasole, Indpur.

The people of Chhatna have held several mass conventions for Chhatna-Mukutmonipur rail line, people attended these conventions regardless of their political inclinations.

People of Jangalmahal, Bankura, organised a rally and assembled for a mass meeting in Khatra, demanding Chhatna-Mukutmonipur Railways.

People of Jangalmahal, Bankura, organised a rally and assembled for a mass meeting in Khatra, demanding Chhatna-Mukutmonipur Railways.

"We had faith in then M P Basudeb Aacharya. He also attended many meetings at Chhatna. Land acquisition started from Kamarkuli Rail gate of Chhatna. The District administration did not have to face any problem. People wanted new Rail services so they came forward and gave away their land. Land losers got the price of the land at the market rate," said Pranab Singhababu, resident of Dubrajpur, Chhatna. He further stated after the acquisition of land, the land for the Railway line is made up by filling the soil. Passing through several villages in Chhatna, the Railway passes along Indpur, Hirbandh and ends at Mukutmonipur in Khatra-Ranibandh Block. After 2011, everything came to a standstill.

Swapan, Bhabotosh, Jiten, Ranjit, Sunil Patra, and others, several people of Bheduasole under Indpur Block spoke in the same sorrowful voice. All of them gave land for the railway project. One of them said, "We could not think the Rail would pass over our village. This work was started at the initiative of Basudeb Aacharia. An emotion was created among the villagers. They said that during the acquisition of land, it was seen that a large public pond of the Bheduasole village was situated on the proposed Railway track. Government officials and then MP Basudeb Aacharia discussed with the people of the village. People of the village were assured that if they gave alternative land, the Rail department would build the same reservoir. People agreed. The Railway department constructed a new pond on the land provided by the people of the Bheduasole village. Now people use that pond and many lands get irrigation water from this new pond. Roads and tunnels for Railways have been made by filling the land from Bheduasole to Shilaboti dam on the southern side."

In the presence of thousands of people on January 12, 2009, the foundation stone was laid for Bheduasole station. During the 2009-10 financial years, out of 800 acres, 517 acres of land were acquired. But after the Parliament election in 2009, since then there has been no progress in this work. Mamata Banerjee became Railway Minister at that time. No money has been allotted for this new project further. Basudeb Aacharia also won as a Left Front candidate from Bankura parliament constituency. He repeatedly raised the matter in Parliament to complete this rail project. But no positive action was taken.

The foundation stone of Bheduasole Rail station was laid at this place. Now, there is no sign.

The foundation stone of Bheduasole Rail station was laid at this place. Now, there is no sign.

"After 2011, the future of this rail project became more uncertain. Land acquisition process was completely stopped. As an MP, Basudeb Aacharia was able to have only one meeting with the District administration. Later on, at the behest of the ruling TMC, the District administration was instructed from the highest level of the state government not to hold any meeting with Basuden Aacharia. This Railway project in Jangalmahal has been sent to cold storage," said Centre of Indian Trade Union (CITU) leader Kinkar Posak.

He stated that Basudeb Aacharia has been repeatedly demanding the railway ministry to continue the Chhatna-Mukutmonipur Rail project. People of the areas are also continuing the movement. But the work did not progress. In 2014, Trinamool Congress candidate and actress Munmun Sen was elected from here. People allege that she has not spoken a single word in Parliament about this rail project.

People of Jangalmahal alleged that several times they asked Union Minister Subhas Sarkar what this rail project's future was but did not get any hopeful answer.

Bipul Sau, owner of a lodge cum hotel in Mukutmonipur, Ratan Haldar, Soumen Kumbhokar, seller of the handicraft goods at Mukutmonipur, and several tourists said that Mukutmonipur is now one of the most attractive tourist spots in the state, and its attraction will increase if there is rail connectivity. Shop owners said their income will also increase.

As well as the Ministry of Railway, the present Bengal government also remained silent for about 12 years; the people of Jangalmahal's have again started their agitation for the demand of Railways. A few days ago, thousands of people gathered in Khatra and voiced their demand for Railways. In many places, processions and meetings are held almost every day. Being informed of the intensity of this movement, on September 7, 2023, Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw sent a letter to the Bengal CM and asked to acquire land for Railway projects in various parts of Bengal. Chhatna-Mukutmonipur is also mentioned in it. BJP workers and leaders show this letter. 

This track was built over the village of Bheduasole in Indpur Block for the Chhatna-Mukutmonipur Railway.

This track was built over the village of Bheduasole in Indpur Block for the Chhatna-Mukutmonipur Railway.

Locals question whether BJP MP Dr Subash Sarkar doesn't know that almost 70% of land has already been acquired during the Left Front regime. They are questioning how much money has been allotted for this Chhatna-Mukutmonipur rail project. Lands that were acquired and laid for railways have turned into thickets and drains.

"Two bridges and 12 culverts on this 48-km railway line have to be built. In addition, highways in related areas have to be renovated. Even if it works fast, it will take at least five years. If the initiative, which was taken in 2005, had not been stopped in 2009, the train would have run through this route by now," said Madhu Sudan Mahato. "Without doing anything for five years in the Jangalmahal area, now BJP is trying to allure people before the parliament election," said Debdas Patra, a primary teacher from Indpur. 

A District-level officer of Bankura land department, who did not want to be named, said that the state government has not yet given any instruction regarding land acquisition.

In response to the question of how many times he raised Chhatna-Mukutmanipur Railway as an MP, Dr Subash Sarkar said he did not discuss it in Parliament. But he has asked former Railway Minister Piyush Goyel and present Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw several times to re-start this project.

Recently, Basudeb Aacharya sent a message to the people of Jangalmahal that even with his ailing health that he will stand by the movement, in which the people have started to demand Chhatna-Mukutmonipur Railway.

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