Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar, Feb 24:
With just a day to go for the presentation of the Union railway budget 2015-16 in the Parliament, a nine-member team of Biju Janata Dal (BJD) MPs today met Union Railway minister Suresh Prabhu to place Odisha’s demands for enhanced allocations for ongoing porjects and new trains for incorporation in the rail budget.
“We impressed upon the Railway minister the need for larger allocations to ongoing railway projects so as to expedite work on them. We laid special emphasis on the Khurda-Balangir railway line, which has already been delayed inordinately,” member of the delegation and Balangir MP Kalikesh Narayan Singhdeo said.
The other projects that figured prominently during the meeting were the doubling of the Talcher-Sambalpur line, the completion of ongoing work on the Puri-Bhubaneswar section and the conversion of the Bhubaneswar into a world class railway station, sources in the team said.
The last hour rush to New Delhi by BJD MPs has raised many eyebrows in the corridors of power.
In December last year, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik had met railway minister Suresh Prabhu and sought Rs 3,200 crore during the 2015-16 financial year to complete ongoing railway projects in the state ahead of Nabakalebar.
It had stressed that the gross earnings of Railways from Odisha was more than Rs 14,000 crore in 2013-14 and sought allocation of a sizeable part of the revenue generated in the state for strengthening and expanding rail infrastructure in the state.
In view of the Nabakalebar festival in July where around 30 lakh pilgrims are expected to descend on Puri, the state had demanded a number of special trains to cater to the needs of the passengers.
Besides, the state had also demanded the completion of several projects on a priority basis before this March. Among them were the Delang-Sakhigopal-Puri railway line, expansion of Puri and Malatipatapur stations, construction of road overbridge near Malatipatapur, third line between Bhubaneswar and Barang and doubling of the line between Cuttack-Barang and Barang-Raj Athgarh. Besides, the Chief Minister had requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi to ensure that sufficient funds are provided for Khurda-Bolangir, Jeypore-Malkangiri and Jeypore-Nabarangpur railway line projects.
‘‘We expect that the Khurda-Balangir, Jeypore-Malkangiri and Jeypore-Nabarangpur railway line projects will be given priority in this railway budget,’’ state Transport Minister Ramesh Majhi said.
Ironically, the Assembly House Committee on railways, which recently visited New Delhi, could not meet the Railway minister to place Odisha’s demands before it for this year.
The BJD has not tasted power at the Centre in the last decade in the UPA and NDA governments and has made a habit of crying ‘Central apathy’ and ‘step-motherly’ treatment every time the Rail budget is presented. Last year though, its voice was considerably muted.
Let’s revisit the state’s share in the Central railway budget allocations in the past for a reality check.
A railway wagon factory at Sitapalli in Ganjam district was announced by then Railway minister Mamata Banerjee in 2011. The Centre had sought 100 acres of land for the proposed project. The state government had identified 101 acres and had informed the Centre about it. The project is yet to take off even with a paltry Rs 2 crore allocated in the 2014-15 railway budget.
The Astarang port project in Odisha’s Puri district was included under the Sagarmala project in the 2014-15 railway budget. The port, to be built as a full-fledged, all weather, multi-user port on BOOST (build, own, operate, share and transfer) basis, was conceived to facilitate export of cargo like iron ore, thermal coal, coking coal, coke and break bulk cargo, but still remains on paper.
Similarly, the fate of the proposed wagon factory in Lanjigarh, Kalahandi and the Skill Development Centre for railway employees at Koraput are yet to see the light of the day.
Work in the railway projects in Haridaspur-Paradip, Angul-Duburi-Sukinda Road, and Talcher-Bimlagarh railway line project, among others, have slowed down of late as land acquisition has not been completed.
As per records, 1275.793 acre land has been acquired out of 1425.625 acre for Haridaspur-Paradip railway line project. The proposed railway line of 82-km stretch was announced in 1995-96. Meanwhile, a special purpose vehicle (SPV) has been set up to complete the Rs. 275 crore project.
The 90-km long Angul-Duburi-Sukinda Road was announced in 1997-98 in which 1179.641 acres of land has been acquired out of the 1205.260 acres required. An SPV has also been set up for the Angul-Duburi-Sukinda Road Special Railway project whose cost estimate has gone up to Rs.1100 crore.
The 154-km stretch Talcher-Bimlagarh project had got approval from both the Ministry of Railways and the Planning Commission in 2004-05.
But a paltry allocation of only Rs. 96 crore against the cost estimate of Rs. 786 crore and tardy land acquisition has delayed the project. Of the 264.245 acre land, 193.715 acre has been acquired and handed over to the railways.
The Khurda-Balangir railway line has turned into a hot potato and politically sensitive issue as it is yet to be completed even 20 years after its announcement. The work on the 289-km line has been delayed due to low budgetary provisions and incomplete land acquisition. The project was sanctioned in 1994-95 with an initial estimate of Rs.1,000 crore. The project cost has now gone up to Rs.1995.25 crore. Of the 289-km line, the railways have so far sanctioned a 112-km stretch from Khurda to Daspalla. The remaining 177-km stretch work is incomplete despite sanction of funds.
Notably, the state government’s proposals for extension of railway infrastructure in Maoist-infested and tribal dominated districts like Nabarangpur and Malkangiri in Odisha are awaiting Central approval.
There has been no indication from the Centre on the proposed Jeypore-Malkangiri and Jeypore-Nabarangpur railway lines.
The state government had put forth its demand for the 130-km Jeypore-Malkangiri railway line and had agreed to bear 25 percent of the estimated cost, besides providing land free of cost. In addition to this, the state government would bear 50 percent cost of land acquisition and project cost in the proposed 40-km Jeypore-Nabarangpur railway line.
On the lines of Haridaspur-Paradip and Angul-Duburi-Sukinda Road railway line projects, a SPV has also been set up for Jeypore-Malkangiri and Jeypore-Nabarangpur projects.