Saturday, May 26, 2007

Tribal land subsidizing some metro rails: tribals ride on roof of freight trains

Tribal land subsidizing some metro rails: tribals ride on roof of freight trains

Chitta Baral, Professor, Arizona State University, chitta@gmail.com

By all measures the achievements of Indian Railways over the last two years have been phenomenal and everyone associated with this turnaround, and especially the railway minister Mr. Lalu Yadav, deserve all the kudos that are coming their way. These achievements and the resulting euphoria has propelled the Railways towards many ambitious and further profit making plans such as a dedicated freight corridor. However, we hope that in this euphoria, the Indian Railways (IR) instead of forgetting its social responsibilities uses part of the profit to make amends to its past inequities.

Consider the following. During 2003-2004 and 2004-05 with respect to the working expense as part of gross earnings the top two profitable railway zones are the South east central-SEC (62.8% and 56.1%) with divisions at Bilaspur (HQ), Nagpur and Raipur and the East Cost-ECOR (66.64% and 61.75%) with divisions at Khurda Rd (near HQ), Sambalpur and Waltair. The top two loss making zones/entities are metro Kolkata (247% and 264.38%) and North Eastern (151.93% and 160.88%). A big part of the profit of the SEC, ECOR and even the profit making South Eastern railway (with divisions at Kharagpur, Chakradharpur, Adra and Ranchi) comes from transporting minerals from various mines in the tribal areas of Orissa, Chhatisgarh and Jharkhand. Yet, when one considers the railway density – Route kms per one thousand sq km – figures, the two states that are part of the most profitable areas of Indian Railways, are in the receiving end. In particular, while the average rail density (2004-05) for India is 19.13; the rail density is highest in Delhi (138.2) followed by West Bengal (43.4), Punjab (41.6), Haryana (36.1), Bihar (35.9), Uttar Pradesh (35.8), etc. while Chhatisgarh (8.6) and Orissa (14.6) are among the states with low rail densities.

This indicates that the Indian Railways is not only using profit earned from zones in tribal areas to subsidize various other zones and entities, it has discriminated against the areas from which it makes the most profit. Moreover, many Railway experts often do not distinguish between projects in these areas and other areas and brandish the term “unprofitable populist projects” without distinction. As a result several projects in these areas have languished for years and may continue to languish despite the big profits that Railways has started making recently.

This neglect by Indian railways of these areas has had a social cost. Several districts in these areas are listed among the most backward districts of India, and big parts of these areas are extremist infested. This has not gone unnoticed. The Planning Commission in its report comparing the development status of economic infrastructure of Orissa, especially the KBK region, vis-à-vis the country says: "Railways have always played an important role in the economic development and rapid social transformation in all parts of the globe. It is one of the key economic infrastructures. However, it is most unfortunate that in a poor and backward state like Orissa, development of rail networks has received much less attention of the Central government in the post-independence period." Similarly in analyzing the 69 backward districts of India Bibek Debroy and Laveesh Bhandari say: "Rail network is significantly less dense in the backward districts (with the exception of Northern Bihar), and even the parts that are connected may not have frequent trains serving those locations."

We request the Indian Railways and the planning commission to pay as much special attention to this other frontier of India (the tribal areas of Orissa, KBK and Chhatisgarh) as it plans to in regard to the frontier areas of North east and J &K. This area is farther from the mainstream India than even most of Northeast and J&K, shares many attributes such as remoteness and presence of extremism, is among the most backward economically, and yet contributes a lot to the Railway kitty. In particular, IR and the planning commission should budget to complete – during the 11th plan – all the ongoing newline and gauge conversion projects touching these parts of Orissa and Chhatisgarh, as their completion only bring these states closer to the average in terms of Rail density. These projects include Dallirajhara-Jagdalpur, Angul-Sukinda Rd, Talcher-Bimlagarh, Lanjigarh Rd-Junagarh, and Khurda Rd-Balangir. In addition they should appropriately connect the dangling lines in these and similar areas where the end points are often mining locations. Some of these end points are Barsuan, Kiriburu, Gua, Bolanikhadan, Badampahar, and Gurumahisani and all of them are in tribal areas. The resulting lack of connectivity has resulted in almost zero passenger services in these areas and as a result local inhabitants, mostly tribals, often travel on the roof of freight trains. This has resulted in tragic incidents, some with loss of lives.

Finally, when establishing new production related employment centers such as the recently announced Rail coach factory in Rae Bareli (cost :1000 crores, direct employment : 5000 people, indirect employment: another 10,000) and the Rail engine factory in Bihar (with similar cost and employment numbers), IR and the planning commission should pick locations keeping regional balance in mind and not just based on where some special people come from. At least one of the above location adds to regional imbalance as IR currently has production units in Kapurthala (Punjab), Perambur (Tamil Nadu), Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh), Chittaranjan (West Bengal), Patiala (Punjab) and Bangalore (Karnataka). Wouldn’t it be a perfect implementation of the UPA common minimum program with respect to tribals if the next production unit is located in a tribal and backward district and surrounded by such districts? Such actions of locating job centers in tribal areas would have a much bigger impact than having reservations for tribals in far flung job centers

1 comment:

Rajesh Toppo said...

The Tribals have been left in the cold not only by the Railways, but also other Central/State Goverment agencies. The Orthodox communities (read Upper Castes) have a near genetic problem of discrimminating other communities. So the only solution has to be found out by the tribals themselves. Rail Infrastructure for the Orissa/ Chattisgarh Tribals can be agood stepping stone towards development, but future looks bleak considering the politics over Railways in India. Tribals should look at Women's Education to bring radical change in their society and attain 100% girls education as the motto for the society.