Kannada MPs suggest separate SWCoR Zone carved out of Southern & Konkan Railways

मंगलूर Mangalore (MAQ): Mangalore-the second largest city in the state of Karnataka, the educational and commercial hub, undoubtedly has a place of prominence, but nevertheless has suffered injustice despite its significant contributions to the ex-chequer. When it comes to the Railways, the region has bountiful of woes to pour in, even as the state has seen eight Railway Ministers over the years, including the present incumbent of the plump portfolio, a Dakshin Kannada man DV Sadananda Gowda. Local MPs allege that it’s nothing but sheer tragedy that a railway station in such a prominent city comes under the Palghat Division in Kerala and the Southern Railways headquartered in Chennai, another neighbouring state.

The one major railway grievance the Mangalore region geographically facing since decades has been that of railway needs and demands always being neglected, despite being a major Railway station on the West Coast of India. Ironically, Mangalore region, in railway’s parlance, has been overshadowed by the Palakkad Division (a Malayalam speaking region) and more interestingly by the Southern Railway HQ with Tamil influence – thus adding more ‘confusion’ among the Kannada speaking public of Mangalore region, allege the MPs from Dakshin Kannada. Coupled with this, the region has always meted out with a step-motherly treatment, as they say, and that the only way out is to press for the formation of a separate Railway Zone with Mangalore as the Headquarters by merging some portions of Palakkad Division from SR, Mysore Division from SWR and the Konkan Railway. Local Railway User Associations, peoples’ representatives, student communities, office goers strongly now started demanding creation of a separate Railway Zone instead of Division. But can the formation of a Railway Zone be an Answer to all the existing problems? MPs opines that creation of a separate Railway Division carved out of the existing Palakkad Division of Southern Railway will not do any justice to the neglected Mangalore region and hence want to push for a separate Zonal Railway headquarters at Mangalore which in all probabilities can solve most of the problems faced by the region.

CR, WR and Konkan Railway systems – all three at Mumbai:

Dakshin Kannada MPs suggest scrapping of Konkan Railway for creation of South West Coast Railway (SWCoR) Zone with Mangalore as Zonal Headquarters.  They even suggest relocation of Western Railway Zonal HQ to Ahmedabad, citing this will decongest Mumbai and can contribute towards creation of so called “Smart Cities” evenly spread on the West Coast of India.

While the historic Mangalore Railway Station (Now Mangalore Central) which is over a century old, has nothing much to boast of, over the years, it had to struggle for every bit of facility at the station and also for new train services, as it was and is still at the mercy of the Palakkad Division, which otherwise is more dependent on its Zonal HQ at Chennai in Tamil Nadu.

Ironically, While some parts of the region are governed by the SWR’s Mysore Division towards East and Konkan Railway towards the North making passengers, industry bodies, students, tourists, general public and people representatives often gets confused as to whom to approach for resolving various issues for betterment of Railway services in and around Mangalore area. One classic example is decade a long struggle that had gone in to see the much awaited Mangalore-Bangalore train service chugged off. During the unification of Karnataka, though the undivided Dakshina Kannada, then in the Madras state, merged with Karnataka, the railway station however could not come out of the administration of Southern Railway headquartered in Chennai. The only difference was that Mangalore railway station which was then in Olavakkot Division is now in Palghat Division.

The Railway network in and around Mangalore in Dakshin Kannada district is torn between many players. The 12-km stretch between Talapady and Mangalore Central, the 11-km stretch from Talapady to Mangalore Junction, the six-kilometre stretch from Mangalore Central to Mangalore Junction Stations and the 19-km stretch between Mangalore Junction and Panambur Yard come under the Southern Railway. Northwards from Thokur belongs to the Konkan Railway, eastwards from Padil on the Bangalore-Mangalore route is part of the South-Western Railway’s Mysore Division and western side belongs to the Southern Railway. Though South-Western Railway had constructed the Padil Station, it was handed over to the Southern Railways to do away with the administrative hassles.

Thus the railway network at a radial distance of just 20 kilometres is torn between three authorities, the majority being with the Southern Railway. Hence, people here are forced to turn to the Palakkad Division for any developmental work despite sufficient revenue generated in the region. Being geographically at the frontier-end of the Palakkad division, Mangalore has not been getting it’s due share since long. Nonetheless, the very survival of Palakkad division relies on the freight charges through MRPL and NMPT. Needless to mention that the loading from Panambur area alone accounted to approx.91.2% of the overall loading of Palakkad Division during the year 2012-13. Still, the neglect of Mangalore division over the years has sparked the demand for a separate Mangalore Railway Division to be carved out of Palakkad division coming under Southern Railway headquartered in Chennai. Naturally, the grouse that a raw deal has been meted out to Mangalore, cannot be undermined by any extent.

Palakkad Division too is not free from problems and has its own share of woes. Carving out the Salem division in November 2007 out of the Palakkad Division was a big loss to Kerala as the division lost Ooty and Erode. The Kerala division in turn lost 623 kilometres of it’s area in Tamil Nadu including Coimbatore and a sizable part of its revenues. The Rs.550 crore Coach Factory at Kanjikode in Palakkad announced in 2008-09 railway budget presented by the then Union Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav and the Railway Zone promised for Kerala then as a compensatory measure, have still failed to materialise.

Even if Railways decides to form a Mangalore Division under the South-Western zone, it is likely to prove a death knell to Palakkad considered as one of the oldest railway divisions of Southern Railway and the second among the five highest revenue earning divisions. Given that Mangalore becomes a Division, Palakkad would not only lose 95 per cent of its revenue which it earns through Mangalore, but probably its very existence!

Even Kerala’s demand for a zone headquartered at Trivandrum has been longstanding as the Southern Railways headquartered at Chennai does not want to let go off high revenue yielding ports of Mangalore and Kochi.

Though the maiden budget of Railway Minister Sadananda Gowda had kindled aspirations, it spoke nothing about any new division. It is being viewed that the track doubling of Surathkal-Mangalore-Ullal and the announcement of the Byndoor-Kasargod passenger service were an attempt to loosen the grips of Palakkad over Mangalore.

Here it is worth mentioning that a high-level panel in the Railway Ministry had opposed creating any new zones or divisions, including the proposed Mangalore and Gulbarga divisions citing financial burden on the national transporter.

A panel comprising senior officials of the Railways said in its report that as Railways “is already facing several financial problems,” creating new zones or divisions would result in further deterioration of the situation.

A year ago, the Ministry of Railways had constituted a panel and referred to all the requests of setting up new zones and divisions. Since 1991, the Railways received requests to set up 32 new zones, including Kerala, and 42 new divisions in various places in the country.

The panel, which studied each request, said setting up new zones or divisions would not serve any purpose. Moreover, existing divisions are good enough to meet the growing demand in terms of passengers or freight transport.

It is a fact that various Railway User’s Organisations, elected representatives including Dakshina Kannada MP Nalin Kumar Kateel and not to forget the present Union Railway Minister, a man from the district D.V.Sadananda Gowda are batting for a separate railway division in Mangalore. In fact M.P. Nalin soon after his election had said “Setting up a separate Mangalore Railway Division would be on top of my agenda.” Even Union Railway Minister who has the track record of fighting for the cause on earlier occasions, has said he was committed to form a Division, but at the same time has been quite guarded when he said one should not expect it to be an immediate reality.

But, is the demand for a separate Railway Zone or Division for Mangalore practical? As per the Railway rules, a minimum of 600 kms of track is required for the formation of any new division. However with the track distance between Palakkad and Mangalore being just 331 kms, a new Railway Division is said to be impractical. In reality, the distance between Thokur (from where the Konkan Railway Line starts)-Palakkad and Salem is around 600 kms.

Merging of Konkan Railway Corporation Ltd with the Indian Railways will solve the problem

This being the case, Railway Zone can be a reality only if the Konkan Railway Corporation Ltd is merged with the Indian Railways. The KRCL though was supposed to be merged with the Indian Railways in 2005 itself, as per the original contract, that has not taken case until now. Even in case KRC agrees to merge with the Indian Railways, provided Union Railway Minister Sadananda Gowda makes up his mind, and a new Mangalore Railway Division is constituted, there would arise many technical glitches. Firstly, there would be problems with regard to gradation of employees. As most of the employees of Mangalore Railway Station presently coming under Palakkad Division are appointed prior to 1996 and as the Konkan Railway Corporation was formed only in 1996, a new Mangalore Railway Division would mean demotion for most of the KRCL employees (considering their years of service) compared to the service period of the Railway Department staff in Mangalore. And this may not be acceptable for KRCL employees in turn leading to some tangle.

Though under the Palakkad division, Mangalore station has got not many new trains with Mangalore as a starting point, at least four to five trains have Palakkad as its starting point. Secondly, Palakkad Division too is not bereft of problems. There is a grouse that the Division is also not enjoying its due benefits as in most cases it is overlapped by Thiruvananthapuram Division.

Secondly, there has been a complaint since long that passengers from Mangalore and Suratkal were not getting their due seat quota in the trains to Bangalore and much of the seats go to Kerala passengers. This complaint stands no ground as presently with the online booking facility, anyone can book a train ticket from any part of the nation. But, the only question is that of the Emergency or VIP Quota in trains. In this case too, most of the times the benefit of the quota is enjoyed by the relatives of VIPs or politicians and it is only in this case that one need to approach the Palakkad authorities for confirmation of a waitlisted ticket. Even in case Mangalore Division is formed, it is believed, the only ones who may benefit from it are the VIPs to avail the quota as they no longer need to approach Palakkad as is the case now.

Under the Palakkad division, the stations that have seen development are Calicut, Salem and Cannanore, while the reason cited as far as Mangalore is the problem in land acquisition, with Palakkad coming under Southern Railway Headquartered in Chennai. Yet another grouse is that no sufficient land is available for development in the vicinity of Mangalore Central station.

Ultimately, if Mangalore Division has to be a reality, the KRCL needs to be merged with the Indian Railways and that is impossible at the moment, say sources. Some other sources also indicate that the fear that the KRCL may be merged with the Indian Railways was one reason that has prompted the Konkan Railway Corporation to show losses, while actually it was reportedly running in profits. In reality, it was only during the times of Dr.E.Sridharan as its Managing Director that the Konkan Railway Corporation showed profits. Moreover, with influential Mumbai men at the helm of KRCL, its merger with the Indian Railways may not be feasible, reveal sources.

While a railway division is not entitled for any funds on its own, the funds are sanctioned and developmental works are initiated at the Zonal level. A division is not empowered to start any new passenger train while it is just an implementing agency. The actual power and decision making factor is vested with a Zone. Also, a demand for a railway division would merely serve the prestige of the VIPs for the sake of quota (as mentioned earlier) and nothing else.

Where lies the solution to this problem? If the opinion of subject-matter experts is taken into consideration, people here, including the elected representatives should actually push for a Zonal Railway status for Mangalore as the headquarters. Elected representatives have even put forward naming of the new Railway Zone as the South West Coast Railway Zone (SWCoR). Just as there was a West Coast Zone decades ago and a East Coast Railway Zone in Bhubaneshwar, experts say presently one can put forth a demand for a SWCoR Zone headquartered in Mangalore. As a railway zone requires a minimum three divisions – Trivendrum to Shornur, Palakkad to Thokur and Konkan Railway region from Thokur to Ratnagiri in Goa could be made railway divisions to form a separate Zone with Mangalore as its headquarters.

How will SWCoR Zone benefit Mangalore?

  • Firstly, a railway zone gets budgetary allocation of funds, has recruitment powers and also can propose new trains.
  • Secondly, in case a new Zone with headquarters in Mangalore is formed, employees of the KRCL willing for a transfer to Mangalore or elsewhere can do so at their option to suit their convenience.
  • Thirdly, as the Konkan Railway Contract period has expired in 2005 itself, there would be no roadblocks for the Indian Railways to take over the Konkan Railway Corporation and merge it.
  • The decision making power in case of a Zone will rest in the Zonal headquarters with the highest authorities positioned here, in contrary to the present case wherein the power is concentrated in Southern Railway headquarters at Chennai and South West Railways headquarters at Hubli.
  • And most importantly, with NMPT being the highest revenue yielder to Palakkad division at present, in case of the formation of a new zone, the entire chunk of revenue would go to the new zone.
  • Further with DV Sadananda Gowda at the helm of affairs as Union Railway Minister, the only thing required of him is to make up his mind.
  • A Zonal Railway on the Western Coast of India covering three the states of Goa, Karnataka and Kerala from the centrally located Mangalore City.
  • Finally, a Zonal Railway Hqrs in the very vicinity of Kerala unlike Chennai on the Eastern Coast.

Given the above factors, the best and viable option is to press for the formation of a new Railway Zone headquartered in Mangalore, which is not impossible if the son of the soil Mr.D.V.Sadananda Gowda takes up the cause. What is required of him is a strong determination, commitment and will power. If Sadananda Gowda could make the vision a reality during his term as Union Railway Minister, then it can be a befitting gift which he can ever give to his home district and home state. Given his previous track record, will he be able to convert this idea into a reality. Well, Mangalore Today has placed forth an idea and suggestion. It is now up to the leaders, the elected representatives, social organisations as well as trade bodies of the region, to consider this issue and press for the formation of a separate zone with Mangalore as its headquarters rather than a separate Mangalore Division, as a Zone would go great lengths in speeding up the railway developmental projects of the region as well as boost the economic and social development of not only Mangalore but the entire West coast. Will they take up the cause?

Since long the grouse has been that Mangalore has been meted out a raw deal, with the division located in Keala and Zonal headquarters at Chennai in Tamil Nadu. Moreover most trains that pass through the station, intend to benefit the Malabar region. One classic case is that of the Yeshwanthpur – Kannur express. It was only after much struggle that it was decided to run a portion of that train from Mangalore to Karwar which too was in bad need of rail connectivity to the state capital. It is being said Mangalore was used just as a pawn mainly owing to limited facilities like pit line and maintenance facilities in Kozhikode, Kannur etc. The net result is that the Mangalore – Hassan line is mostly used for freight movement except for a few passenger trains via Puttur and Subrahmanya. Moreover, Mangalore has also no rail link to other places in Karnataka including Hubli, the headquarters of South West Railways, Bijapur, Raichur, Bidar and Gulbarga.

Mangalore – a Historic, but neglected Station

The Mangalore Railway Station presently known as Mangalore Central, had celebrated a quiet centenary in 2007. Though there are no exact records to prove that the railway station was opened in 1907 and the first train services commenced the same year, if one goes by the foundation stone on a quaint little guard house at the northern-end of the railway bridge across the Netravathi which says “The last rivet was put in position and the bridge formally declared completed by H.E.H. Sir Arthur Lawley. KCMG, GCIE, Governor of Madras on the 4th November 1907,” one can conclude that the train services commenced somewhere around this time.

Though some records say that the first train that chugged on the newly constructed Netravathi bridge on November 4, 1907 came from Kallikote in Kerala, records with the Southern Railways say that the first train to be introduced in the zone, train number-1, ran its maiden journey between erstwhile Madras and Mangalore port in 1914, reducing the voyage of 1024 nautical miles via Cape Comorin to 550 miles.

This broad gauge railway route was formed mainly for the transportation of world famous Mangalore tiles to Madras Harbour to be exported by ships. Thus the same train returned after one week as train No.2. containing 3 compartments with Mangalore tiles and the fourth one with passengers and postal mailbags. The same train is the present No.6001/6002 Chennai Central-Mangalore Mail. The Mangalore Railway Station used to be the last station connecting Mangalore to the state of Kerala in the south and to the rest of the country. No doubt, the first train services in the region opened a new chapter in the history of the area and paved way for much progress. Mangalore was then in the Madras province under the British rule. The construction of the Netravathi Bridge in Ullal using 16 spans of 150 feet length each was taken up around this time. A few years later, in 1929, the Grand Trunk Express was introduced that ran for 104 hours through the length of the west coast, from Mangalore to Peshawar in Pakistan. In those days, it was the longest rail route in the country. In 1930, Mangalore was made a permanent station from a trial station. A glance at the railway history of the nation will make anyone outrightly conclude that Mangalore railway station has been a much neglected station over the years. If train services in the nation commenced in 1853, in Mangalore it arrived 55 years later. Now though it is over hundred years since the railway station was established, we see not much progress except a few changes. The old building was renovated just over a decade ago. Except for some developmental work there has been not much of a progress to boast of.

It was during T.A.Pai’s tenure as Railway Minister in 1971 that the first direct link train No. 131/132 Jayanthi Janatha Express from Mangalore to Delhi commenced with the Mangalore Railway Station as the starting point. Apart from the Konkan Railway, even the Mangalore-Jammu Tavi Navyug Express is George Fernandes’s gift to his hometown Mangalore.

Konkan Railway Corporation – the key Player

The Konkan Railway Project, the 760-km broad-gauge railway line from Roha in Maharashtra to Mangalore in Dakshin Kannada, the brain child of the visionary leader George Fernandes, touching four States became a reality in the late 1990s was indeed a landmark. With 1800 bridges and 88 tunnels, including a tunnel as long as 6.5 km it has been hailed as the project of the century and its completion in 1997 was a fitting tribute to the Golden Jubilee anniversary of the India’s Independence.  Konkan Railway Corporation Ltd (KRCL) was incorporated on 19.07.1990 pursuant to an Agreement between Government of India acting through Ministry of Railways and the Governments of Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka and Kerala and obtained Certificate of Commencement of Business on 20.08.1990 for construction and operation of the Konkan Railway, a Broad Gauge Railway Line along the west coast of India connecting Roha (in Maharashtra, near Mumbai) in the North to Mangalore in the South and for raising the necessary finance for the project from the market. The Project was envisaged under the BOT (Build-Operate-Transfer) concept for the first time in India where KRCL shall build the Railway Line, Operate the same and Transfer the Railway Line to the Indian Railways after discharging the liabilities. The line was commissioned on 26.01.1998.

The commencement of the Konkan Railway Services between Mumbai and Mangalore also created a revolution of sorts, giving much more prominence to the Mangalore railway station, connecting various places in Dakshina Kannada and Udupi. There was no railway link between Mangalore and Udupi earlier and it became a reality only with the commencement of the Konkan railway services which paved away for the setting up of stations in Kankanady, Suratkal, Bantwal, Puttur, Ullal, Mulki, Padubidri and Kundapur. While the Mangalore-Puttur line was declared open on December 2003, the Puttur-Subrahmanya line was opened on July 2005, providing the much need link from Mangalore to Puttur and the pilgrim centre Subrahmanya.

Konkan Railway with its headquarters at Belapur (Navi Mumbai):

The Konkan Railway has two regions with headquarters at Ratnagiri and Karwar. The Ratnagiri region extends from Roha to Sawantwadi, while the Karwar region extends from Pernem to Thokur.  Years ago when there was a proposal to include Mangalore Central Railway Station with KRCL, the Konkan Railway Corporation laid track from Mangalore Central to Mangalore Junction at a cost of Rs 12.2 crore. But the Keralite lobby worked against this, as they did not want to lose the goose that lays the golden egg. Then the founder chairman of the KRC E Shridharan had sent a proposal to merge Mangalore Central and NMPT route with KRC. However, bowing to the Keralite lobby, the Railway Board merged these two revenue-generating spots with the Southern Railway and fixed the Konkan route from Thokur in Mangalore.

When the KRC was formed it had eyed the freight through Panambur hoping that the revenue would make up for the huge investment in laying tracks. But the Corporation had to be satisfied with its starting point from Thokur as the Southern Railway could not let go off this profitable line from its hands. The Railway ministry has the major share of 51 per cent in KRC, followed by Maharastra-22 per cent, Karnataka-15 per cent and Kerala and Goa, six per cent each.

World Class Mangalore Station – Waiting to be a reality

There was some sort of excitement in the air almost four years ago when the then Union Railway Minister Mamatha Banerjee announced the upgradation of the Mangalore Railway Station into a World Class Station (WCS) in the railway budget presented on June 3, 2009. Almost four years down the line, the project is in the limbo with uncertainty still prevailing. Moreover no one is sure as to whether the Mangalore Central or Mangalore Junction station would be developed into a WCS.
The one major stumbling block is said to be the availability of land in the vicinity of Mangalore Central station. Even Mangalore Junction at Kankanady which is 10km away from the heart of the city, does not have enough land at disposal for a WCS. Though there was a proposal to consider Yekkur for the development of WCS, even that was dropped as levelling of land here itself would cost upto several crores of rupees.

For a World Class Station to be a reality, a minimum of 50 acres of land is required. Still, Deputy Commissioner A.B. Ibrahim, during a review meeting held recently, said that land available on the Mangalore Central Railway Station premises was insufficient to upgrade the station to world-class standards. Instead, Mangalore Junction could be developed to world-class standards as the administration was willing to acquire about 60 acres of land in exchange for 30 acres of Railway land at the Goods Shed.

However, social activist and Paschima Karavali Railway Abhivriddhi Samithi President G. Hanumanth Kamath has something else to say. He points out that the Railways had abundant land available around the Mangalore Central station. He suggests that some unused buildings in the vicinity may be shifted to make the WCS a reality. At the same time the move to upgrade the Mangalore Central railway station has caused concern among many who feel the heritage structure of the station has to be preserved so that the old-world charm of the frontage of the Mangalore Central Station is intact even while developing the Station into World Class standards.

The plan is to have a WCS through Public Private Partnership (PPP). A year ago, the then Union Railway Minister Mallikarjun Kharge who was in Mangalore to flag off three new trains viz Mangalore Central – Madgaon Inter-city Express, Mangalore-Kachiguda biweekly Express, and Mangalore-Bhatkal DMU (Diesel Multiple Unit) had said the survey work for such upgrading is already over in Mangalore , and the proposal has been sent to the railway board for approval. But over a year since then, no ground work has been done even though Palakkad Division maintains that the project is still there.

All eyes on DVS: He is the eighth leader from the State who has got the honour of handling the prestigious and plump Railways Portfolio. DV Sadananda Gowda’s appointment as the Union Railway Minister is certainly a matter of pride for the state, for the Bangalore North constituency which he is representing in the Praliament, and his home district Dakshina Kannada. But will his beign the Railway Minister serve the railway interests of the state, or cause disappointment as during the tenure of the previous railway ministers.

However, his predecessor Mallikarjun Kharge of the Congress has been given credit of delivering a lot in his short stint. Kharge during his short stint had introduced six new trains that were not announced in the budget presented by his predecessor. He also announced the Gulbarga Railway Division and rail coach factories at Kolar adn Yadgir. Similarly, people want Gowda to take a cue from Kharge and contribute something to his home district as well as constituency while protecting the railway interests of the state.

Incidentlly, of the 40 leaders who held the railways portfolio, eight were from the state, but still Karnataka has poor track record in railways with several projects needing to be undertaken to take the railway sector in the state on fast track.