Mitali Express, the third passenger train service between India and Bangladesh, made its debut from New Jalpaiguri station on Wednesday amid applause of north Bengal residents who had assembled at the station for this special occasion.
People also lined up at locations along its route till Zero Point.
Mitali Express was virtually flagged off from Delhi by railway minister Ashwini Vaishnaw and his Bangladesh counterpart Mohammad Nurul Islam Sujan.
“A longstanding demand of the north Bengal has been met,” said Gautam Bhattacharya, a Haldibari resident who took the train to Bangladesh.
The train, railway sources said, has to cover 595km to reach Dhaka Cantonment from New Jalpaiguri in nine hours and 45 minutes.
On the Indian side, the train needs to cover 61km between the Zero Point near Haldibari and New Jalpaiguri stations. Till Zero Point, the BSF and the RPF guarded the train. At the border, the Border Guards Bangladesh took charge of the train’s security.
Two other passenger trains, Maitree Express and Bandhan Express link India and Bangladesh. Maitree connects Calcutta. and Dhaka and Bandhan Calcutta and Khulna.
Mitali Express has four AC chair cars and an equal number of AC coaches with sleeping arrangements.
It will run from New Jalpaiguri on Sunday and Wednesday and depart from Dhaka on Monday and Thursday.
Fares from New Jalpaiguri to Dhaka Cantonment is 22 USD for AC chair car and 33 USD for AC sleeper with 5 per cent GST. Fares from Dhaka to New Jalpaiguri are 22 USD and 44 USD, respectively.
A number of elected representatives and officials of Northeast Frontier Railway were present at the NJP station when the train headed for the neighbouring country.
Saral Choudhury, a resident of Chittagong in Bangladesh, was among the first 18 passengers. “I was supposed to take a flight to Dhaka from Calcutta (where I had come for a health reason). But as I came to know about the new train service, I cancelled my flight and booked a ticket on this train. This is like being a part of history,” he said.
Trains used to run along the Haldibari-Chilahati route (Chilahati is the first station in Bangladesh, at Nilphamari district) till 1965.
“The route has reopened after 57 years. It is a remarkable day for north Bengal and Bengal as a whole,” said Pradip Chakraborty, a retired railway employee.
Bibekananda Choudhury and Rajen Mishra, pilot and co-pilot of the diesel loco that hauled the train from NJP, were equally elated. “This is an achievement for us that we were chosen to drive this passenger train,” said Mishra.
A.B. Siddique Tito, a tour operator of Bangladesh who frequently travels to north Bengal, said Mitali Express would boost tourism on both sides of the border.
A two-day international seminar on “Revisiting Partition: Social Cultural and Literary Context(s)” was organised by the english and sociology departments of North Bengal St Xavier’s College, located in Rajganj block of Jalpaiguri, on May 30 and 31.
Fr Lalit P Tirkey, SJ, the college principal asserted that the seminar was an attempt to revisit the past.
The seminar not only delved deeper into the political aspects of partition, but also explored its literary, socio-cultural and emotional dimensions.
Urvashi Butalia, a writer, publisher and activist, Sayeed Ferdous from Jahangirnagar University, Bangladesh, Debjani Sengupta from Indraprastha College for Women of Delhi University, Moushumi Bhowmik, singer, writer and researcher and Zinia Mitra delivered lecture on the topic.