Southern Railway grapples with land encroachments while TN government stays silent

CHENNAI: Even as squatter and encroachers are sitting pretty, and railway administration is unable to evict them due to non-cooperation from the state government authorities, the union railway minister Suresh Prabhu flagged off a 7km line in the city, though the stretch is lying incomplete still.

During his visit to the city last week, Prabhu inaugurated the 7km line between Ennore and Tiruvottiyur in North Chennai. It is part of the Chennai Beach-Attipattu 4th line.But what Prabhu did not know is the fact that the project is still incomplete because Railways is unable to evict encroachers who have built huts and even pucca houses on land meant for laying tracks.

Southern Railway has identified around 750 such structures in six areas across the city , a majority of them in North Chennai, impeding crucial capacity addition projects.These projects are necessary for railways to run more suburban and freight trains as well as speed up existing trains.

Despite repeated requests, state government authorities have not come forward to help railways, senior officials privy to the developments point out.The most recent was a threepage letter written by Vashishtha Johri, general manager of Southern Railway to Tamil Nadu chief secretary Girija Vaidynathan on April 17. A complete list of these encroachments was given in the letter.No reply has been obtained from the state government, railways said. Vaidyanathan did not respond to, when asked about the issue.

“It is a political hot-potato.Most of these encroachments are in RK Nagar constituency and hence the police and reve nue department officials don’t want to touch it. Whatever eviction has been done is only with the support of Railway Protection Force (RPF),” says a senior railway official.

Hutments and other houses have been built on railway land adjoining the tracks in areas like Vyasarpadi, Washermenpet, Minjur, Ennore and Korukkupet. Tracks are used as a site for open defecation by people living in these areas which creates two issues for railways -one, it causes train run-over deaths; and two, the excreta on tracks corrodes the tracks causing safety concerns for trains. Southern Railway is facing a case in National Green Tribunal (NGT) regarding this issue. It has been directed to build a boundary wall to demarcate its territory , but unable to do so due to the hutments.

The residents say they are on this land for many years, some for up to two decades. The state government wants Railways to sanction `100 crore for rehabilitation of slum-dwellers encroaching on railway land. However, this is not acceptable to Railways, as rehabilitation is a state subject, say officials.