Over INR 70000 Cr Railway projects of Strategic Importance stuck in Funds Crunch & Redtape

Over Rs 70,000 crore worth of railway projects that would improve defence mobility and commercial interests have been crawling along for years – in some cases over 15 years – majorly due to a lack of adequate funding and and bureaucratic red tape

Over Rs 70,000 crore worth of railway projects that would improve defence mobility and commercial interests have been crawling along for years – in some cases over 15 years – majorly due to a lack of adequate funding and and bureaucratic red tape. Most of these projects, in the North-East and J&K, were even categorised as National Projects that would get separate funds from the Centre and identified as railway projects in border areas with ‘strategic importance’.  In one case, a project that was.sanctioned back in 1994-95 has only just touched the halfway mark.

At the time when they were declared National projects, the aim was to connect the North East with the railway network. But these projects have gained larger significance even in terms of India’s Look-East policy of connecting India with other South Asian countries to exploit trade and commerce activities. For instance, the Rs 4,478 crore Jirbam-Imphal project is only 27% complete since 2003-04 when it was sanctioned even while Imphal is being looked at as a railway hub and the government intends to extend railway lines from there into Myanmar.

At present, there are 12 railway projects that have been declared as National Projects – one of these, the 290-km Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla project, is in Jammu and Kashmir. The rest are in the North East. Together, they are worth over Rs 47,000 crore. However, as in the case of the Rs 19,565 crore J&K project which was sanctioned back in 1994-95, only 50% has been completed and Rs 9,815 crore spent (anticipated expenditure) so far. According to the Railways ministry, these projects are being executed ‘as per availability of resources’.

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“These lines are strategic in more ways that one. The economy in the North-East needs a push. It is important in terms of cross-border mobility of goods and services as well as from the defence point of view. These lines are crucial for the defence but it is only now, after China’s investment in infrastructure along the border has come to the fore, that it has gained importance. There are also other lines which are of more strategic importance but work there too is very slow. Time bound action plan is very necessary,” said J P Batra, former Railway Board chairman adding that the difficult terrain and local issues including land acquisition also puts an impediment. 

In the meanwhile, the over Rs 22,000 crore Bilaspur-Manali-Leh new railway line, which has been in the pipeline for several years despite being recognized of national importance, is yet to even be sanctioned. Given the high cost of building this line, it was proposed that it be financed by the finance ministry. But the proposal has not been supported by the finance ministry and planning commission, which objected on grounds that it has a negative rate of return.

The line, once built, would connect Himachal and Ladakh, near the China border, and enable faster movement of defence personnel and equipment to the strategic military base, Leh. In 2011, highlighting the importance of this project, former Himachal CM Prem Kumar Dhumal had said, “The security concerns of the country should not be weighed with unrealistic economic cost. China having already built the Beijing-Lhasa railway track, it is critical for India to respond to increased security threat to our country.” (Courtesy: ET)

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