WR fails to commission new Bandra-Santa Cruz line, left red-faced

Mumbai: Western Railway authorities were left embarrassed and short of answers on Monday after they failed to commission the newly-constructed fifth line link between Bandra and Santa Cruz due to the protest on Sunday by residents of shanties through which the line passes.

The stretch of track is the missing link of the fifth line — also called the Suburban Track Avoidance line — that runs between Mumbai Central and Borivli and is used in both directions by long-distance trains. This missing link will ensure that long-distance trains don’t come onto the fast tracks between Bandra and Santa Cruz and hit the punctuality schedules of suburban trains during the peak hours.

The ruckus between the residents of the area and the railway authorities began after the former realised that the line will cut the passage used by them for several years to get to a cemetery nearby. What is particularly galling is that despite the issue cropping up several times over the past decade, WR authorities did not think it fit to do anything about it while the Rs20-crore line was under construction for the past three years.

Speaking to the press, WR general manager SK Sood agreed that it was a lapse. “I agree there has been a mistake. We did not think of an alternative like a ramp or a new level crossing while building the line. Now, rectification measures will have to be taken,” said Sood.

Gopal Shetty, MP, Mumbai North, too did not have too many solutions for it besides calling it a “social problem”. When asked whether the track would be removed for the residents, he put up a brave face and said “no it wouldn’t”. “We are representatives of the people and we will talk to the residents of the area and come up with a solution,” said Shetty.

Sood told the gathering that he would ensure that the line is operational in the next 10 days. Shetty went one ahead and said eight days.

Shetty added that he is proposing that encroachers on such land be rehabilitated, something railway officials privately admitted will be the death-knell for almost all projects in the city. “Even the World Bank follows this same rule of not sanctioning funds till all such project-affected people are rehabilitated. I’ve raised this issue in Parliament and want it to be followed in Mumbai as well, even for central government-owned lands,” said Shetty.

“The railways will not financially be able to build homes for people encroaching our land. The state government might not share the burden. In short, it will be the end of mega-projects in the city,” said a senior railway official.

While the removal of encroachment is a tough task for railways, till some years ago WR, between Churchgate to Dahanu, has some 3.5 hectares — or 35,000 square metres of land — encroached. Central Railway, much bigger than WR in area, has some 4.7 lakh square metres of land encroached.

MP furious over snub:
“I got the invite at the last moment… my name was also not printed on it. Hence, I decided to stay away from the function to protest against the Railway administration,” Shiv Sena MP Gajanan Kirtikar, under whose Parliamentary constituency Andheri falls, told. Kirtikar said that he was given an invite only on Sunday night. “I have given the railways a protest letter,” he said, adding that he would urge railway minister Suresh Prabhu to hold a meeting in this regard soon and admonish the errant officials.