Monday, August 20, 2007

An Open Letter to Orissa CM

Naveen Patnaik
Chief Minister
Government of Orissa

cc: Members of Parliament from Orissa

Subject: Pursuing KBK and tribal area rail connectivity with the planning commission

Dear Esteemed Chief Minister:

As you are aware, the 11th plan is currently being formulated by the planning commission. As part of this plan the Indian Railways is reported [3] to be proposing a plan of Rs 251,000 crores to be spent during that plan.

During the last several years you have been relentlessly pursuing several developmental aspects with respect to the most backward area of India, the KBK region of Orissa, in particular the KBK yojana and the Ranch-Vijaywada highway. Our MPs have also raised the issue of KBK related rail lines, such as the Khurda-Balangir railway line. However, in regards to the railways in KBK, it seems (based on news paper reports) Orissa has been more reactive than proactive. We have often raised the issue only weeks before or after the Railway budget when our voice gets drowned by every other state making similar demands. Also, we often focus on the annual budgets.

I would request that we make a comprehensive case for completion of KBK rail connectivity and connectivity to other tribal areas of Orissa within the coming 5 year period; the 11th plan period. If India Railways is going to spend 251,000 crores in the 11th plan period [3], we must make the case that they spend four to five thousand crores in completing these lines. This will only be about 2% of the total proposed Rail budget for the 11th plan.

(By KBK Rail connectivity and connectivity to other tribal areas of Orissa I mean the following lines:

1 Khurda - Balangir
2 Gunupur-Theruvali
3 Lanjigarh Rd – Bhawanipatna – Junagarh – Nabarangpur- Jeypore – Malkangiri – Bhadrachalam Rd (Andhra Pradesh)
[Creates a shorter and alternative Ranchi-Hyderabad route.]
4 Talcher – Bimlagarh
5 Bangiriposi (Mayurbhanj tribal Dist)-Gurumahishasini and/or Buramara-Chakulia.
6 Badampahar-Keonjhar

While the first three connect to KBK and thus may be of higher priority, the last 3 connect to tribal areas in Sundergarh and Maurbhanj and connect many existing dangling lines that are used to transport minerals but do not have passenger service; forcing tribals to risk their life traveling on roof-tops of freight trains. )

(A) The first argument in this regard is the data that was mentioned by the ECOR GM Shri Surendra Singh Khurana in his Independence Day address [1] few days back. Talking about ECOR, he said:

“With only 4% of the track of Indian Railways, we cater for about 12% of total loading of Indian railway and about 7% of total earning of IR.”

(B) While the above compares the track percentage with total earnings, if one were to compare track percentage with profits, ECOR’s share of Indian Railway profit could be around 10%. This is based on the following data.

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

• The other profit making zones in those years were
–South east central (62.8% and 56.1%), North central (76.33% and 66.71%),
–Central (80.29% and 82.48%), South eastern (81.24% and 83.51%),
–South Central (85.72% and 83.62%), West Central (80.99% and 84.08%),
–South Western (91.35% and 86.15%), Western (93.21% and 90.85%),
–Northern (91.08% and 92.89%) and East Central (93.65% and 98.9%).

• The loss making zones were:
– metro Kolkata (247% and 264.38%), North Eastern (151.93% and 160.88%),
–Northeast Frontier (147.98% and 159.45%), Eastern (161.3% and 152.84%),
–Southern (118.55% and 120.79%) and North Western ( 106.26% and 104.98%).

(C) In terms of rail density: 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.

The data from (A), (B) and (C) show that while Indian Railways is making a lot of revenue and profit from ECOR (big part of which is in Orissa) and also SER (part of which is in Orissa), both ECOR and Orissa have been grossly neglected.

At this juncture, when Indian Railways is planning to spend Rs 251,000 crores [3] during the 11th plan and many of the big ticket items of this plan completely bypass Orissa (for example, the initial freight corridors that are to be built during the 11th plan bypass Orissa; none of the high speed routes that have been mentioned go through Orissa; and among the various metro rail proposals that are under consideration and metro rails that are being built, none are in Orissa), it is imperative that the basic necessities of Orissa and its backward and tribals areas (also the most backward areas of India) are taken care of.

This sentiment is not just wishes of Orissans, but this has been argued by previous planning commissions and eminent researchers like Mr. Bibek Debroy. Following are some excerpts.

(D) 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."
(E) 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."
The current planning commission has all the data on KBK that they need, but just in case here are some.
(F) The tribal population percentage of the KBK districts are as follows:
Malkangiri 58.36% (+19.96% SC), Rayagada 56.04% (+14.28% SC), Nabarangpur 55.27% (+15.09% SC), Koraput 50.67% (+13.41% SC), Nuapada 35.95% (+13.09% SC), Kalahandi 28.88% (+17.01% SC), Sonepur 22.11% (+9.5% SC), Balangir 22.06% (+15.39% SC). Two adjacent districts also have high tribal population. They are Kandhamala 51.51% (+18.21% SC) and Gajapati 47.88% (+8.77% SC). Tirbal percentage of Mayurbhanj is 57.87% and Sundergarh is 50.74% .

(G) The literacy rates in the KBK districts are abysmally low. Malkangiri 31.26%, Nabarangpur 34.26%, Rayagada 35.61%, Koraput 36.2%, Nuapada 42.29%, Kalahandi 46.2%, Balangir 54.93%, Sonepur 64.07%. Two adjacent districts also have low literacy: Gajapati 41.73% and Kandhamala 52.95%. The state average is 63.1%.

(H) Population below the poverty line in southern Orissa (of which KBK is a part) is reported to be 89.17% of the people according to the 1999-2000 NSS data and 72% of the families according to the 1997 census.

Finally, please note that in the 2004 railway budget [2] the then Railway minister Nitish Kumar had proposed the Remote Area Rail Sampark Yojana which aimed to complete lines like Khurda-Balangir within the next 5 years. This has been completely sidelined by the UPA government.

While one may criticize the 2004 railway budget, and praise the current railway minister Lalu Yadav’s profitable running of the Railways in the last couple of years the questions that beg answers are:

(i) Why is that when ECOR makes 7% of the revenue and almost 10% (or may be more) of the profit of IR it has only 4% of its tracks?
(ii) Why is it that under the above circumstances, the Railways while making its big plans for initial freight corridors (that will be done in the 11th plan), high-speed rail and metros, the ECOR area is completely forgotten.
(iii) Why is it that when the PM in its various speeches and the UPA in its manifesto talks about even development across India, development of tribals etc. the ground action is exactly opposite in case of Indian Railways.
(iv) Why is the central government putting onerous conditions (such as 50% 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?
(v) Why is it that Railways the largest employers of the world are not thinking of establishing a production unit in the tribal area (such as KBK) where it can more easily employ more tribals and thus help them more?

Dear esteemed Chief Minister: We request that you present the above data and ask the esteemed Prime Minister, Railway Minister and Planning Commission these questions and request that during the 11th plan the Indian Railways not only complete the KBK Rail lines (Khurda - Balangir; Gunupur-Theruvali; and Lanjigarh Rd – Bhawanipatna – Junagarh – Nabarangpur- Jeypore – Malkangiri – Bhadrachalam Rd of Andhra Pradesh) and connect the dangling lines in the tribal districts of Sundergarh and Mayurbhanj (Talcher – Bimlagarh; Bangiriposi -Gurumahishasini and/or Buramara-Chakulia; and Badampahar-Keonjhar), but also establish one or two Railway production centers in the KBK and tribal areas of Orissa.

Chitta Baral,
Arizona State University

[2] (items 35,37)

1 comment:

Rajesh Toppo said...

The Open Letter to Orissa CM is a very positive step in the development of Orissa.
As a tribal from Orissa I feel we have been very complecent for the last 60 years of our Independence.
We can still make a case for Us and struggle for our Demands.
Mr. Laloo is fully capable of doing his bit for Orissa and lets hope he does.