Squatters hold back key Railway projects across Indian Railways

Railways, commuters lose when politics encroaches projects

Several big-ticket railway projects-including the launch of India’s first semi-high speed train Gatimaan Express-are stuck, thanks to squatters who have encroached on prime railway land across the Capital. Despite six trial runs-the latest being in June this year-the railways has not been able to flag off Gatimaan Express.

At least 25-30 km of railway tracks on the Delhi-Agra route has been encroached upon, leading to slow movement of trains along with other compelling factors that have delayed the launch. Touted as the fastest train of India, Gatimaan Express will run at the top speed of 160 km/hour between Delhi and Agra. An inspection was conducted by the Commissioner of Railway Safety who raised several objections that are being cleared by the railway authorities before seeking the safety nod again. The train is likely to become operational by March 2016.

A senior Northern Railway official said there are 47,000 situated on railway land in Delhi out of which nearly 22,000 are located in the safety zone, that is, within 15 metres on both sides of the railways tracks.

Official sources said at present Bhopal Shatabdi Express runs at the maximum speed of 150 km/hour, but the speed comes down at 50-60 km/hour while in the Delhi region. “Under these circumstances, it is difficult to attain the punctuality of Gatimaan Express which is supposed to complete the 195 km distance between Delhi-Agra in 1 hour 25 minutes,” said a senior official. In his last inspection, the Commissioner of Railway Safety had pointed out 25 obstructions, mainly due to encroachment, on the Delhi-Agra route. Trial runs of the train had begun in October last year.

With nearly 2.5 lakh people residing along railway tracks in Delhi, the expansion of railway infrastructure and decongestion plan of Delhi has also taken a hit. Encroachers have delayed at least five major projects of Northern Railways. These include the expansion plan of Anand Vihar terminal and the Shakur Basti railway station and the proposed railway terminal at Bijwasan in South West Delhi.

As per the plan, Shakur Basti railway station is being expanded to handle the trains bound to five northern states-Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan. Similarly, the Bijwasan railway terminal will cater to the trains headed to states like Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Gujarat while the existing Anand Vihar terminal caters to the trains bound to states like Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Assam. The idea is to manage the crowd at New Delhi and Old Delhi railway stations by keeping these trains from entering the city. The two stations collectively receive a daily footfall of nearly 10 lakh passengers.

Expansion Plans

At Anand Vihar, the railways has planned to increase the number of platforms to accommodate more trains. Also, there is a proposal to construct a 1-km-long subway that will connect the Anand Vihar terminal with the local station, which falls between New Delhi and Ghaziabad rail line. However, the plan is stuck due to encroachment in the vicinity of the station.

Similarly, the railways had planned to develop the existing Shakur Basti station into a junction with train maintenance facilities. Interestingly, Shakur Basti has the maximum encroachment in Delhi and the railways has been unable to get the land vacated. The proposed railway terminal at Bijwasan is another major project for Delhi’s decongestion. The railways are exploring the possibility of creating direct connectivity between the Delhi airport and the Bijwasan railway station.

The politics and the protests over Northern Railway’s Shakurbasti demolitions and the subsequent death of a child have struck a cord with officials at both Western and Central Railways.

Both the railway zones have seen prime property worth thousands of crores of rupees being encroached upon by settlers over the years, stalling and delaying several important projects in the process.

At a look at the issue of railway encroachments and how most of the times, senior railway officials entrusted with the task of clearing them, are just no match to the combined strength of the vote-chasing politico and the money-chasing slumlord.

Encroachments all around

Western Railway, between Churchgate to Dahanu, has some 3.5 hectares or 35,000 square metres of the land encroached. Central Railway, much bigger than WR in terms of area, has some 4.7 lakh square metres of the land encroached. Removing them is a slow process with the CR managing to remove around 12,037 shanties between 2011 and 2014, while the WR managed to remove about 3,076 shanties. The eastern stretch of Bandra and Khar is among the worst hit in the country as far as prime railway estate encroachment is concerned. A rough estimate of all these lands could be in the range of Rs.5,000 crore. Of the seven spots on the eastern fringe between Bandra and Khar majorly affected by encroachments, the biggest is the Behrampada area with 1,500 shanty units on about 15,000 square metres of land. The second largest chunk is the Khar East one, a stone’s throw away from the station, which has about 685 units on some 13,720 square metres of the land. Almost all the shanty units, a WR report has noted, are now ground plus two structures, the maximum construction on these units coming after the devastating Garib Nagar fire that reduced the shanty town to ashes on March 4, 2011.

Stalling, delaying projects for now, forever:

a) One of the projects currently on the slow track is the ambitious, Rs.107 crore Prime Minister Office-monitored project to add a third line between the Mumbai Port Trust and Kurla for quicker transport of imported coal to the state’s power-plants. The third line is a major part of the government’s plan to ensure timely transport of imported coal from Mumbai Port Trust to Kurla and then on the CR mainline to different power plants in the state. Officials said once this third line comes up, the number of goods trains — that will transport coal and other items like oil and chemicals — will be far more than the 15 to 20 trains that move through Kurla now.

The project — a joint venture of Central Railway, Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) and the Mumbai Port Trust — is a tough one, said officials, mainly because of the 1700 Project-Affected Persons (PAPs) who have to be rehabilitated.

b) The 5th-6th line between Kurla and CST is another project that will have its fair share of headaches when it comes to construction on the ground. The latest survey for the alignment shows that there are some 642 hutments along the tracks between Kurla and Parel and some 47 close to Parel itself. The 5th-6th line between Kurla and CST will ensure that there is a separate corridor for long-distance trains right from CST to Thane which will allow CR to run more suburban trains on the four tracks reserved for locals. Currently, during morning and evening peak hours, several long-distance trains enter and exit the city, eating into the path of local trains.

WR’s 6th line headache:

On October 25, 2013, WR carried out one of the its biggest anti-encroachment strikes by using more than 500 railway and police personnel to remove shanties that had come dangerously close to the Suburban Track Avoidance line on the eastern fringe between Kandivali and Malad stations. On October 27, two days later, in the course of a public function at Kurla terminus to commission the Bombardier rake, the issue became a political one with then chief minister Prithviraj Chavan complaining to then railway minister Malikarjun Kharge about the demolitions. Kharge ‘asked’ WR officials behind the demolition to be careful about such drives in the future. Officials now say that these very shanties in a couple of years will be the main factors of stalling the Rs918 crore 6th line project. The line will allow WR to run long-distance trains separately without disturbing suburban locals.

The 5th line shame:

The WR and the state government endured its fair part of shame when it failed to commission a Rs.13 crore rail link between Mahim and Santa Cruz due to protests from people living in shanty towns along side. The Mahim-Santa Cruz line — part of the missing link of WR’s 5th line — has been ready since May this year, but was never commissioned. This was because the opening of the line was opposed by residents of shanty towns along the Navpada cemetery in the eastern fringe of Bandra station because the line cuts off the cemetery from the townships. Now of course, with WR constructing a new 886 metre long Rs 36 crore railway flyover for harbour line between Bandra and Khar, this stillborn line will be uprooted.

However, railway officials agreed that it does nothing to reduce the shame and helplessness on the part of the state government and the railways ministry over not being able to start a line once it was constructed.

WR: 35,000 square metres encroached between Churchgate and Virar
CR: 4.7 lakh square metres encroached

Sukhi Griha Scheme

In her budget speech on February 25, 2011, then railway minister Mamata Banerjee announced the start of the Sukhi Griha Scheme to build 10,000 dwelling units for slum-dwellers along tracks. Mumbai was one of the four chosen cities. The announcement never took off because according to officials, in most cases the cost of the project to be built on the encroached land was less than the money needed to build houses for the slum-dwellers.

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