CRB gets an earful on tardy progress of rail projects in the State from Jharkhand CM

Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren on Monday took up the issue of pending railway projects in Jharkhand with Chairman of Railway Board Arunendra Kumar. After the meeting, the CM instructed setting up a high-level committee to prepare a detailed report on pending projects with emphasis on estimated expenditure and tentative duration for completing such projects

रांची Ranchi (RNC):  Arunendra Kumar, Chairman, Railway Board who flew in from New Delhi to the state capital yesterday apparently got an earful from Chief Minister Hemant Soren at project building on the tardy progress of six railway projects in Jharkhand, five of which had started in 2002.

However, after the hour-long meeting followed by an aerial survey in the afternoon, Kumar is learnt to have indicated that the six projects would be complete no sooner than 2017, after a fresh memorandum of understanding (MoU) was inked between the state and railways.

“Railway projects in the State had been started many years back and the State Government also provided funds for the projects. Execution of a project should not be so much delayed that the projects remains pending as generations pass,” said Soren.  The six projects comprise laying of tracks on Koderma-Hazaribagh-Ranchi, Ranchi-Lohardaga-Tori, Koderma-Giridih, Koderma-Tilaiya (in Bihar), Dumka-Rampurhat and Dumka-Hansdiha stretches.

Save the last, all the projects were inked in 2002 when Babulal Marandi was chief minister. In the original list, Deoghar-Dumka was the sixth, which is the only one that’s fully complete. Partially complete is the Ranchi-Lohardaga-Tori project, with tracks laid between the capital and Lohardaga.

A couple of years ago, Dumka-Hansdiha railway lines were added to the list, keeping six as the number of projects despite the change.  However, the MoU for these railway lines, after extensions, expired in March last year.

The CM stressed upon according priority to near-completion projects instead of working on all projects at the same time and that the State Government will consider releasing funds for such projects based on the report of the committee. The committee has been asked to submit its report in two days.

Notably, construction of around 565 km of railway lines under six projects is proposed for Jharkhand for which the State Government has issued Rs 2,000-crore. But, only 365 km of railway tracks have been constructed. Projects which are delayed are facing a cost over-run and it has reached Rs 6000-crore which is an additional burden on the State. The State Government has now decided to sign project-wise MoU after the committee submits its report and it will ensure that the money is spent on the project for which it is meant for.

“We will discuss the issue of additional burden on the State Government due to Railway’s failure to work on time with the Prime Minister and will request the Government of India to bear additional expenditure (on projects),” maintained Soren.

The CM asked for reports on expenditure of funds provided to Railways so as to prevent financial misappropriation. Soren also stressed upon clarification on who should maintain 14 Railway over-bridges constructed by Konkan Railway.

“Many bridges are in bad condition and Kandra railway over-bridge has been completely destroyed,” pointed out Soren, adding in anguish that the “Railway Board must take demolished over-bridges in industrial areas with seriousness”.

The meeting focused on the contentious issue of inconvenience to people because of the railway track passing through Ranchi. The issue has been raised by several political parties and organisations from time to time but so far no answer has been found to the problem. Soren suggested that an over-bridge between Hatia and Birsa Chowk should be constructed on priority basis so that people can get a convenient medium of transport. CM also suggested that areas along railway tracks be freed from encroachment to construct an eight-lane road along tracks.

“Keeping in view the increase in population in next 20 years and transportation the Railway Board must prepare proposals for over-bridges,” asserted the CM.

Soren once again raised the disproportionate railway facilities in Jharkhand which contributes hefty revenue to the Railway’s kitty. The CM asked for a direct connectivity between Dumka and Howrah.

The meeting was attended by Finance Minister Rajendra Prasad Singh, Principal Secretary to CM SK Satpathy, Principal Secretary Finance Rajbala Verma and senior officials of Indian Railways.

About a fortnight ago, the state cabinet resolved to renew the MoU till February 2016 on the condition that all these projects would be completed in the given time frame or else the Railway Board would bear all expenses.

But now, it looks like the projects would not be complete before 2017.

It means that the railway projects would have taken a span of 15 years from start to finish, the years inflating crores of public money to project costs.

When the projects started, the total cost was estimated at Rs 1,997 crore with the state’s share being 67 per cent. Later, Centre and state shares were revised to an equal 50 per cent each.

The latest estimates have put the escalated project cost at Rs 5,775 crore.

So far, the state has given over Rs 2,219 crore to the Railway Board for these projects. It needs to give around Rs 1,000 crore more, which is one of Hemant’s main grouses.

In the meeting, finance department principal secretary Rajbala Verma pointedly said the state government couldn’t afford to renew MoUs every year and bear the brunt of project cost escalations. She also advised Hemant to seek detailed fiscal accounts.

Hemant also pulled up the railways over the slow pace of work on Godda-Hansdiha and Dumka-Rampurhat projects as well as the “poor quality” of 14 road over-bridges (ROBs) that have been built by Konkan Railway across the state.

However, Hemant and his battery of bureaucrats may well know that the state has played its part in the delay.

Rebel attacks — usually, torching construction equipment to scare away labourers — were among the chief law and order problems that played a major role in scuttling schedules of Ranchi-Lohardaga-Tori and Koderma-Hazaribagh-Ranchi lines.

Land acquisition in Koderma-Ranchi section is still an issue. Forestland clearances have come up in the way of projects in Hazaribagh.

If maintaining law and order and acquiring land fall under the state’s jurisdiction, securing environment clearances is a matter in which both the state and the Centre need to be involved.

Railway Board chairman Kumar said he was ready to furnish detailed accounts. He argued the time spent in acquiring land, securing environment clearances and waiting for poor law and order to improve in many remote areas were important reasons behind the delays.

He also clarified that while renewing the MoU the Railway Board would not add any new clause to unnecessarily increase the state government’s financial burden.

In the afternoon, state transport secretary-cum-commissioner K.K. Soan and other senior officials assisted Kumar in an aerial inspection of the sites of the ongoing projects.

Soan told that they flew over Chatra-Latehar and Hazaribagh sites in a BSF-operated Mi-17 chopper. With Kumar and him were state home secretary N.N. Pandey and inspector-general (operations) M.L. Meena.