NEW DELHI: India on Thursday described as “speculative” recent news reports that said Tehran had dropped India from a project to build a railway line connecting the Chabahar port on the Iranian coast to Zahedan, the provincial capital of Sistan Baluchistan province adjoining Afghanistan.
Indian foreign ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said Iran was to nominate an authorised entity to finalise the outstanding technical and financial issues related to the project.
Srivastava said that since 2016, despite the difficulties posed by the US sanctions situation, there has been significant progress on the Chabahar port project that India sees as an alternative route to land locked Afghanistan and Central Asia bypassing hostile Pakistan.
“We have seen some speculative reports about Chabahar Port and the Chabahar-Zahedan railway project,” Srivastava said. “With regard to the port, you are all aware that a longstanding commitment from 2003 was finally operationalised in 2016 during the Prime Minister (Narendra Modi)’s visit to Iran. Since then, despite the difficulties posed by the (US) sanctions situation, there has been significant progress on the port project,” he said referring to US assurances to India that it would not come under sanctions for developing the port seen as a means to economically support Afghanistan. India has been operating some terminals of the port – seen as a counter to Pakistan’s Chinese built Gwadar port — and using it to transport wheat consignments to Afghanistan.
According to Srivastava, an Indian company has been operating the Chabahar port since 2018 and has steadily scaled up the traffic there. “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,” Srivastava said.
Proactive measures are currently underway to increase the usage of Chabahar port, both for Afghanistan and Central Asia, he said.
“Insofar as the proposed (Chabahar-Zahedan) railway line is concerned, 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,” Srivastava said.
IRCON has completed the site inspection and review of the feasibility report, he said.
“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. In December 2019, these issues were reviewed in detail at the 19th India-Iran Joint Commission Meeting in Tehran,” Srivastava said.
“The Iranian side was to nominate an authorised entity to finalise outstanding technical and financial issues. This is still awaited,” he said.
The railway line to Zahedan – which is situated close to the Afghan border — would help transport goods faster to the Afghanistan. India completed the construction of a 218 kilometre stretch of road in Afghanistan in 2008 — the Zaranj-Delaram Highway that links up with the so called Garland Highway in Afghanistan as it connects Kabul, Kandahar, Mazar-e-Sharif, Herat and Kunduz. Zaranj lies inside Afghanistan on the border with Iran.
Reacting to some other news reports on Iran’s Farzad-B Gas field negotiations in which ONGC was involved in the discovery stage, Srivastava said follow-up bilateral cooperation was, however, 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,” he added.