Monday, August 20, 2007

Indian Railways ignore ECOR, Aug 21, 2007

Known as an open minded Railways top notch, Surendra Singh Khurana quietly dropped a bomb shell on the Independence Day.

The East Coast Railways (ECOR) General Manager (GM) pointing out the strength of Zone said that "With only 4 per cent of the track of Indian Railways (IR), we cater for about 12 per cent of total loading and we earn 7 per cent of the total earnings of IR”.

Being part of the Railway establishment there is not much more that he can say to indirectly point out the unfairness of Indian Railways towards ECOR and the State of Orissa and parts of Chhatisgarh and Andhra Pradesh that is covered by ECOR.

However the incompetent Orissa leadership did not able to take ECOR GM's hint - Orissa and its tribal areas continue to suffer, thanks to the apathy of the IR authorities.

The people of Orissa are doubly unfortunate that on top of this level of unfairness of Indian Railways, it also has an incompetent leadership and a callous bureaucracy which can not take such an obvious hint.

Mr.Khurana set an agenda to make a coherent argument and take it to the Prime minister, Railway minister and the Planning Commission and convince them that IR must spend the same percentage, if not more, of its revenue that it gets from ECOR, in the areas covered by ECOR.

This is inexplicable in the current environment where the PM seems to be open to such logic, as shown by his pronouncements regarding central universities in each state that does not have one and other recent HRD initiatives.

The argument for spending more than the revenue percentage is multi-fold: long term past neglect by the IR of the ECOR areas, especially KBK and adjacent districts in Andhra Pradesh and Chhatisgarh; backwardness of these areas; the high tribal population of these areas; and need for rapid development in these areas so as to prevent then from further slipping into the Maoist folds.

All the Orissa government, its MPs and its bureaucrats have done in the past is to make some empty noises around the time of the Railway budget, which predictably gets cowed down by all other states making similar noises, and then they forget about it to slip into slumber.

Considering that ECOR among the top profitable railway zones it might as well be the case that close to 10 per cent of the total profit of IR comes from ECOR.

In 2003-2004 and 2004-05 the working expense as part of gross earnings of the ECOR zone is the second best at 66.64 per cent and 61.75 per cent respectively.

In the 2004 Railway budget the then Railway minister Nitish Kumar had proposed the Remote Area Rail Sampark Yojana which aimed to complete lines like Khurda-Balangir to be completed within the next 5 years.

Now this plan has been completely derailed by the present UPA government.

The Railways while making its big plans for freight corridors to be taken up in Eleventh Plan, high-speed rail and metros, it seems that the ECOR areas are completely forgotten.

The Prime Minister in his speeches and the UPA in its manifesto talk about even development across India and especially development of tribal etcetera, the ground action is exactly opposite.

The Planning Commission members as well as teams that visit KBK talk about the importance of Rail connectivity to raise these areas out of backwardness, why is it that the Indian Railways (especially under UPA), has completely forgotten about the backward and tribal areas of ECOR.

The Central government putting onerous conditions (such as 50 per cent match by the state) on development of lines such as the KBK related lines (and similar lines in ECOR areas of Chhatisgarh) when it knows very well that those states do not have the ability for the matching fund?

Does the central government want that districts like KBK should remain inaccessible and thus poor and backward for ages?

Does the central government want that these areas should slip further and further into the hands of the extremists?

Now it is the high time for Railways, being the largest employers of the world should establish a production unit in the tribal area (such as KBK) where it can more easily employ more tribals and thus help them in a bigger way.

But alas! Who will take up the issues?

Almost everybody those who matters are busy in their own game pushing plan and the ECOR finds it self in funds crunch for taking up long pending projects of the areas.

Are you listening the Chief Minister ?

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