IR to crack down on illegal constructions to improve Track Maintenance & Safety norms

The Indian Railways will soon be writing to all state governments for removal of all unauthorised construction near railway tracks and seal illegally occupied quarters.

illegal-occupation-of-railway-landNew Delhi: In a bid to reduce train accidents, the Indian Railways has decided to come down hard on unauthorised construction near railway tracks. The decision was taken on Thursday by Minister of State for Railways, Rajen Gohain after he conducted a safety review meeting with senior officials in the railways in wake of the recent Kanpur train accident. The Indian Railways will soon be writing to all state governments for removal of all unauthorised construction near railway tracks, sources said.

The meeting was attended by not just top officials of the railway board but ground staff of six railway zones were also roped in for this meeting. Of the total 17 railway zones, these six zones – East-Central, Eastern, South-East-Central, East-Coast, North-East Frontier and Southern – were roped in for the safety review meeting. A senior official from the railways said that of late, maximum safety issues have been raised from these six railway zones. He, however, added that railways will conduct similar safety review meetings with other zones too in the coming days.

The MoS (railways) took the decision after trackmen and keymen apprised the minister of safety issues that arise due to presence of unauthorised construction near railway tracks. Officials, who attended the meeting, said that trackmen expressed concerns over maintenance of railway tracks due to presence of unauthorised constructions, mostly slums, close to railway tracks.

According to preliminary probe of the recent Kanpur train accident, the accident was caused due to rail fracture. Poor track maintenance including lack of proper fittings and ballast on the railway lines causes fracture on the tracks. While a simple crack on track may not be of much concern, a severe fracture causing separation of the track can lead to derailment of trains.

Railways have approximately 4.31 hectares of land and presently, there are about 1 lakh encroachments on railway land across the country. 879.48 hectares of total land holding, are under encroachment. MoS railways Gohain, in a written reply to Lok Sabha on November 23, said that 206.37 hectares of railway land have been encroached in the Northern Zone, followed by 156.17 hectares in South Eastern Zone and 106.25 hectares in Northeast Frontier Zone.

Railways seals illegally occupied quarters

After floundering with cosmetic anti-encroachment drives, the railways has finally hit hard against illegal occupants of its staff quarters and vacant land. One official estimate says more than 400 of the 1,500 staff quarters of railways in different Gaya localities are illegally occupied. Besides, nearly 50 ‘khatals’ have come up over the years on its land in Gaya.

According to divisional assistant engineer Vikram Seth, who is in charge of the railways’ estates, about 100 staff quarters have either been sealed or demolished after eviction. The abandoned dwelling units are being demolished while the units fit for living are being sealed, he said.

Refusing to go on record on the number of quarters under illegal occupation and ‘khatals’, Seth said about 20 units were demolished and other 80 sealed. About 20 ‘khatals’ have also been removed, he said. On the steps being taken to prevent reoccupation of evicted quarters, Seth said the sealed dwelling units could not be occupied without breaking the seal, which is not easy. The structures built by ‘khatal’ owners are also being demolished during the ‘khatal’-removal drive, he said.

Asked if criminal cases would be lodged against illegal occupants and the railway staff who have sublet official quarters allotted to them, Seth said such a decision had to be taken at a higher level and he was not authorised to do so. The railways, it may be recalled, is said to be the biggest owner of real estate in the Gaya Municipal Corporation area as it owns, besides more than 1,500 residential quarters/bungalows, big chunks of open land in prime localities. Favouring institution of criminal cases against the illegal occupants and their patrons, Congress leader Mohd Moosa said things would come back to square one after the eviction drive if punitive action was not taken against the wrongdoers.