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Chabahar-Zahedan railway line: MEA says India not dropped from key project, puts ball in Iran’s court

India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has downplayed the recent controversy with its long-standing partner Iran even as media reported that India had been dropped out of the Chabahar-Zahidan railway project.

The MEA has ruled out reports of India being left out of the prestigious Chabahar rail project. Terming media reports as speculative, MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said the feasibility survey has already been carried out and the spot assessment has been made. But the MEA official threw the ball in Iran’s court by stating that the country has to make the final decision.

“As far as the proposed railway line is concerned,” Anurag Srivastava said, “IRCON was appointed by the Government of India to assess the feasibility of the project. It was working with CDTIC, an Iranian company under their Ministry of Railways in that regard.”

“IRCON has completed the site inspection and review of the feasibility report. Detailed discussions were thereafter held on other relevant aspects of the project, which had to take into account the financial challenges that Iran was facing,” he said.

According to the foreign affairs ministry, the issues were reviewed in detail at the 19th India-Iran Joint Commission Meeting in Tehran in December 2019. MEA spokesperson said, “The Iranian side was to nominate an authorised entity to finalise outstanding technical and financial issues. This is still awaited.”

Sources privy to information in Iran said, “The Chabahar-Zahidan was 40 per cent complete when Iran took over the project as Indian company was held up on the account of US sanctions. Indian company IRCON was to shoulder the burden of share 150 million dollars but Iran opened its own purse string to complete the project.”

A senior official in Iran Embassy further said, “Soon, the second phase of the rail project will also begin from Zahidan to Zaranj on the Afghan side, enabling hassle-free trade and movement. But we have kept the window open for IRCON.”

Sources said that Iran is also keen on Indian involvement in the railway line project as the country is facing financial crunch on account of harsh US sanctions.

The MEA has also clarified on some reports regarding the Farzad-B Gas field negotiations in which ONGC was involved in the discovery stage.

The MEA stated that in follow-up, the bilateral cooperation was impacted by policy changes on the Iranian side.

In January 2020, we were informed that in the immediate future, Iran would develop the field on its own and would like to involve India appropriately at a later stage. This matter remains under discussion, said MEA spokesperson.

The Chabahar Port, which has been a long-standing commitment between India and Iran since 2003, was finally operationalised in 2016 during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Iran.

Since then, despite the difficulties posed by the sanctions situation, there has been significant progress on the port project. An Indian company has been operating the port since 2018 and has steadily scaled up the traffic at the port.

Since December 2018, 82 vessels have been handled there, including 52 in the last 12 months alone. The port handled 12 lakh tonnes of bulk cargo and 8,200 containers. Proactive measures are currently underway to increase the usage of Chabahar Port, both for Afghanistan and Central Asia.

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