by Indrani Bagchi

NEW DELHI: India refuted Iran’s contention that it is out of the Chabahar-Zahedan rail project, with senior Indian officials saying that New Delhi remained “committed” to financing and building the railway which is an intrinsic part of the Chabahar port project.

Responding to Iranian expectation that India will play an important role in the transit route from Chabahar to the Turkmen border, senior officials at the Indian embassy in Tehran said, “India is committed to building the Chabahar-Zahedan railway line and is continuously engaged with Iranian authorities concerned to take this important project forward.”

Explaining Tehran’s views, an Iranian government source here said, “It was expected that in addition to the investment in Chabahar Port, India could also play a more crucial role in funding and constructing this strategic transit route from Chabahar to Zahedan and from Zahedan to Sarakhs at the border with Turkmenistan which in the absence of an active Indian engagement and partnership, is currently under construction by Iranian funding and engineering capacities.”

Sources pointed out that certain hurdles in the way of making material for the railway lines were being sorted out and construction that Iranian agencies needed to undertake was also awaited.

The Zahedan railway project, according to Indian officials, has two components — the ‘sub-structure’ which is earth-moving and preparing the ground for the tracks and the ‘super-structure’ which includes the tracks and rakes.

The Iranian government is responsible for the first and India has committed to do the rest. However, the Indian part needs steel which is currently under US sanctions, and this has caused a delay.

The port however, is doing brisk business, and has been firewalled from US sanctions, which required some diplomatic heavy-lifting by the Indian leadership with their US counterparts. PM Narendra Modi met Iranian PM Hassan Rouhani in New York in September, while external affairs minister S Jaishankar travelled to Tehran in December. The Iranian foreign minister was a star attraction at the Raisina Dialogue this January.

An Iranian source said, “As far as Chabahar Port is concerned, Iran has been committed to its common vision and partnership with India to develop the port for the sake of peace and economic integration in the region.”