Darjeeling MP Raju Bista today urged officials of the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR), including its General Manager Anshul Gupta, and the Railway Board, to fully implement the Forest Rights Act (FRA) Act in areas affected by the ongoing construction of the Sevoke-Rangpo rail line. Once completed, the under-construction railway line will bring the Himalayan state of Sikkim into the country’s railway map for the first time.
“I requested that the Forest Rights Act (FRA) Act should be fully implemented as per the law in the areas impacted for the construction of Sevoke Rangpo railway line and the Railways must ensure proper compensation and rehabilitation plan for the affected families/villages,” Mr Bista said. The MP today held a virtual meeting with officials of the NFR, the Railway Board and representatives of the Ministry of Railways regarding various issues concerning Railways in the Darjeeling Hills, Terai, and Dooars. According to Mr Bista, they spoke at length about the need to upgrade the railway infrastructure and extend more services for the convenience of the people.
They also discussed the need for promotion and development of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR), including issues of apprentice recruitments, welfare of contractual workers, and up-gradation of the DHR Workshop and Railways Hospital at Tindharey in the Hills.
“I was also informed that the conversion of the old Railway Printing Press into a DHR Musuem is nearing completion and will be opened for public very soon,” Mr Bista said on social media. Reacting to the MP’s initiatives, the general secretary of the Himalayan Forest Village Organization (HFVO), Lila Gurung, said that the FRA, if implemented, must be done properly. “It should not be eyewash only. Once the Act is implemented, other things like rehabilitation and compensation will automatically follow,” said Mr Gurung.
The HFVO is a forum of forest dwellers, which is protesting the Sevoke-Rangpo rail link and is saying that the project would leave thousands of forest villagers at risk. The organization is claiming that the project is being undertaken without following the forest and environment laws and in violation of the FRA.
According to Mr Gurung, the railway line will affect around 24 villages. “Though work has started, no no-objection certificate (NOC) was taken from any gram sabhas, which should have actually been done according to rules. The parja-patta (land deeds) has also not been given of the land, jungle or water, where the forest villagers live,” he said.