Motivated Political Murders delays decisions over various Railway projects in Kerala

National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data shows the state machinery led by CPI (M) is deliberately ignoring political murders.

NEW DELHI / KOCHI: When it comes to rail development, the Kerala state finds itself moving at a snail’s pace. While the successive governments huff and puff about the Centre’s negligence, the railway ministry places the blame squarely back on the state, charging that most of the high-profile projects are stalled due to non-availability of land.

However RailNews takes a closer look on the ground situation both at state and centre, and finds that the political gap that surmounted in the recent past over the politically motivated murders of BJP and RSS supporters in Kerala state is real reason behind their inordinate delay.

This leads to the inevitable conclusion that the state machinery is deliberately not trying to work against political murders. The political will is clearly not there to curb such crimes.

Idealogically, Kerala is in the limelight with frequent political murders every now and then, and the main accusations were around those parties in power since 1970s. Politics in Kerala is dominated by two coalition fronts – the CPI (Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) since late 1970s.

Although the main charge the Railways levels over the state government is the delay in handing over land for certain key infrastructure works and its refusal to share project cost with regard to at least three key projects, it can be assumed that the crimes of political murders as per the motives also the reason for the Centre to halt the proposals.

Under the scheme of the Indian Constitution, ‘law and order’ is a state subject. This effectively means that the state government is responsible for maintaining law and order in the state and thereby is the custodian of peace. National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) is an agency which annually releases statistical data on crime in India.

It has been witnessed in the last decade that various MNCs and major global conglomerates are also focussing on rest of India instead of kerala, in their Look at India policy and Look and Indian Railways policy, only because of the unstable and turbulent political situation in Kerala under the regime of CPI (M). Various MNCs instead of looking at Kerala, are focussing on those geographies which are politically progressive and forward-looking like Telangana, Andhra, Gujarat, Haryana, Bihar, UP, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. “We are not keen in investing in a state where turbulent political atmosphere prevails“, said a CEO-India and APAC region of a global manufacturing giant in a recent interview. This speaks about the poor law and order situation in Kerala.

In light of the violence in Kerala, it is incumbent that we look at the statistical data provided by NCRB to provide certain insights on the issue. NCRB, in its data for the year 2018, categorised the crime of murder as per the motives also. One of categorical motives in the data is “political reasons”, these can be referred as political murders.

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, along with Left parliamentarians, recently staged a dharna on Friday in front of the Rail Bhavan against the Railway Ministry’s decision to scrap the proposed ₹550 crore Coach Factory in Palakkad District.

Blaming the Centre for “punishing” the people of Kerala, the chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan recently claimed that it was because the state was being ruled by the Left Democratic Front that the central government made this decision.

However according to Divisional Railway officials in Palakkad and Thiruvananthapuram, the state government needed to hand over “51 hectares of land in total” for various projects, both ongoing and that for which approval was given, in the Thiruvananthapuram division alone. However, delay in handing over land in certain projects threatens to affect smooth train operation. The track doubling through Kottayam section is the most urgent infrastructure work needed to be completed as the railway tracks in the division is already saturated, making it almost impossible to run new trains. “The track doubling works in the 115- km long Ernakulam-Kottayam-Kayamkulam section was originally scheduled to be completed in March 2017. However, the failure of the state government in handing over the land for the last over three years is indefinitely stalling the works. The last deadline sought by the government was May this year. However, even now, over five hectares of land in the Ettumanur-Changanassery sector remains to be handed over to us,” a senior railway official said.

The doubling works in all other sectors in the section got completed and the railways officials now target to open the section for traffic by March 2020. Another project affected is the Angamaly-Kalady section of the ambitious Sabari rail project. “We’ve got nod to lay tracks only in the seven km section, that too way back in 1998. However, the government needs to hand over nearly four more plots (0.6 hectares) needed for setting up railway over bridges at Nedumbassery and Nayathode,” the official said. The other projects stalled due to delay in land acquisition include renovation of the Old Railway Station at Ernakulam, doubling works in the Thiruvananthapuram-Kanyakumari section, Nemom coaching terminal and the setting up of at least 94 rail overbridges besides construction of over 10 new bridges.

“For instance, the construction of bridges at Mooradu, Dharmadam (two), Ezhimala and Cheruvattur in Palakkad division got completed. However, the same could not be linked with the railway line as the government is yet to hand over the same,” sources said. Similarly, the railways blame the state government for non-realisation of projects like Sabari Rail (section beyond Kalady), doubling of coastal line through Alappuzha and the Tirunavaya-Guruvayur line.  “The Centre allocated Rs 220 crore for the Sabari project but the state government is refusing to share the cost citing that the project was conceived long before the cost sharing (51:49) agreement came into effect,” an official in charge of the project said. This even as two land acquisition units is still functional. Similarly the state refused to invest half the project cost with regard to the doubling in the Ernakulam-Ambalappuzha section citing that the same is being done for operational purpose and hence should be entirely borne by the railways.

State feels railways treats it unfairly

It’s not on the proposed rail coach factory at Palakkad alone that the state finds itself neglected by the railways. G. Sudhakaran, the minister in charge of railways in the state, says several projects such as the Thalassery-Mysore railway line which the railways had earlier agreed to implement are yet to be taken up. “Around 10 projects were identified to be taken up for implementation post formation of joint venture Kerala Rail Development Corporation. Railway board chairman Ashwani Lohani had agreed to implement the projects during his visit to the state over six months back. Now they are either rejecting such projects (Kanjikode) or keeping silence over their taking up,” Mr Sudhakaran told. He denied the charge of Railway Minister Piyush Goyal that the state government is not co-operating with railway development.

“Compared to previous governments, the LDF government is making fast progress in land acquisition. We’ve written a letter to the prime minister and the railway minister yesterday to convey our disappointment on such baseless allegation,” he said. Another two projects of interest to the state government were the setting up of coaching terminals at vacant railway lands at Pullepaddy and Nemom. However, the same has been reportedly put on the backburner by the railways due to the huge project cost involved. The line capacity at the two busiest railway stations in the state — Thiruvananthapuram and Ernakulam Junction — has touched 150 per cent during peak hours with the existing infrastructure proving to be inadequate to meet the rising transportation demands.

“Since the railway headquarters of the Southern Railway is in Chennai, we’re experiencing huge delay in decision-making on almost all major projects. We’ve sent a letter requesting to take up major projects, especially the coaching terminals,” said a state government official included in the KRDC board. However, the railways are not keen to take up the works immediately. The Nemom coaching depot (10 pit lines and 15 stabling lines), which had found mention in the railway budgets of 2008 and 2011, would cost a whopping Rs 600 crore for implementation.

Similarly in Ernakulam, the railways plan to manage the situation with the existing infrastructure. “We’ll soon start train operation in the Harbour Terminus line. This would mean long-haul trains terminating at Ernakulam could be taken to the Harbour Terminus or Mattancherry Halt stations since traffic in the line will be minimum. Similarly,  the work to set up an additional pit line at the Ernakulam marshalling yard is progressing which will facilitate inspection of additional two to three trains,”  a railway official said.

It may not be out of place to mention here that Centre has always been favouring any new project in Kerala. Examples of setting of Strategic Electronics Factory of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited at Kasaragod, Kerala, BEML’s Pallakkad Plant, Bharat Electronics Limited’s Product Support Centre at Kalamassery, various DRDO’s Labs i.e. Naval Physical Oceanographic Laboratory, Cochin, ISRO Centres at Vattiyarkavu, Aluva and Thiruvananthapuram and various other major centres of ICAR, CISR and Universities have been established in Kerala.