India on Thursday dismissed reports that Iran has decided to exclude it from the construction project of a railway line linking the Chabahar port with Afghanistan, and said that Tehran is yet to nominate an authorised entity to finalise the outstanding technical and financial issues related to the venture, PTI reported. Iran had reportedly cited delays from India in funding and starting the project.

Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said there has been significant progress on the Chabahar port project since 2016. “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,” he said at a press briefing. “Since then, despite the difficulties posed by the sanctions [by United States] situation, there has been significant progress on the port project.”

Srivastava added that India’s main investment in the Chabahar Port had progressed well in the last few years, handling 82 ships with 12 lakh tonnes of bulk cargo in 8,200 containers since December 2018.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of External Affairs also confirmed that India is no longer involved in the Farzad-B gas field project where Oil and Natural Gas Corporation had originally signed an agreement for exploration in 2002. The MEA said “policy changes” in Iran were responsible for the decision but did not give details.

India had signed the highly-anticipated deal on the Chabahar port, which lies in a free trade zone, in May 2016. The railway project was between the Iranian railways and the state-owned Indian Railways Construction Limited. It was meant to be part of India’s commitment to the trilateral agreement between India, Iran and Afghanistan to build an alternate trade route to Afghanistan and Central Asia.

But on Tuesday, The Hindu reported that the Iranian government decided to proceed with the long-stalled rail project without India’s participation. It said the Iranian railways will proceed with the rail project using approximately $400 million (Rs 3,017 crore) from the Iranian National Development Fund. Last week, Iranian Transport and Urban Development Minister Mohammad Eslami inaugurated the track-laying process for the 628 km Chabahar-Zahedan line, which will be extended to Zaranj across the border in Afghanistan.

However, Srivastava called these reports speculative and said that IRCON had completed its site inspection and review of the feasibility report for the project last year, as per a memorandum of understanding signed between India and Iran in 2016.

“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 added.“In December 2019, issues [on the railway line] were reviewed in detail at the 19th India-Iran Joint Commission Meeting in Tehran. The Iranian side was to nominate an authorised entity to finalise outstanding technical and financial issues. This is still awaited.”

Iran has also denied the report that New Delhi was dropped from the rail project, Al Jazeera reported on Thursday. Farhad Montaser, a deputy to Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization,
called the report “totally false because Iran has not inked any deal with India regarding the Zahedan-Chabahar” railway. “We had a list of Indian investments in Chabahar port, which also included the issue of Chabahar railway infrastructure and the railway, but during the negotiations it was not agreed [upon],” he had said.

India has invested $500 million (approximately Rs 3,700 crore) in the Chabahar project, which will connect the country with Afghanistan and Central Asia, bypassing Pakistan. The first phase of the strategically-located project was inaugurated in December 2017.