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Rail-Link may pacify situation in Kandhamal
"It is most unfortunate that in a poor and backward state like Odisha, development of rail network has received much less attention by Union Government in the post- Independence period. This is one of the main reasons for the backwardness of adivasis and other areas of Odisha who are backward partly because of the lack of connectivity and such neglect continue to keep them backward and prevent them from catching up from the mainstream."
Er Lalit Pattnaik : January 14, 2009
Orissa has been in news globally for the wrong reasons. Both national and international media has given a wide coverage to the recent Hindu-Christian violence in Kandhamal. But, hardly any news report has drawn the attention of the people that the lack of railway connectivity in this backward region is also one of the main reasons for the intense communal clash.
The poor tribals and deprived people of Khandhamal have been isolated from the main stream of Orissa because of the lack of connectivity. The district is full of hills and does not have multiple entries and the railway link is absent.
It is important to note that Railways have always played an important role in economic development and rapid social transformation across the globe as it is the cheapest mode of transportation.
However, it is most unfortunate that in a poor and backward state like Orissa, development of rail network has received much less attention by Union Government in the post- Independence period. This is one of the main reasons for the backwardness of adivasis and other areas of Orissa who are backward partly because of the lack of connectivity and such neglect continue to keep them backward and prevent them from catching up from the mainstream.
Due to lack of connectivity, the locals could not intermingle with out side world and hence the social transformation could not take place. And also their products could not be transported easily and hence got less value for the same. Only the traders from out side world went inside Khandhamal and looted the tribal’s of their produce at much less market price. In Khandhamal, the tribal population is 51.51 % and the scheduled caste is 18.21 %.
Therefore, the demand is gaining momentum for a rail line connecting Lanjigarah to Phulabani to Angul that will bisect Khandhamal region & also the up coming Khurdha – Bolangir rail line so as to serve as a bypass link between Bhubaneswar to Koraput zone. And people inside Khandhamal will have access to Indian rail network. The rate of return (RoR) from this rail line will be much more than 14 %, which is required by Railway Board to sanction a new rail line.
The rail link will shorten the distance between the coal center in Angul and Bauxite Mine center in Koraput by more than 100 KM. The largest aluminum company NALCO at Angul sends coal to it’s refinery plant in Koraput and brings back alumina to Angul and this shortening of distance will reduce the time consumed for the transportation and will enhance it’s ROR. Other aluminum company like RSB, Vedanta and Hindalco will follow the suite and the new line via Khandhamal will earn more than 20 % of RoR.
Besides transportation by the major industries, other goods to Raygada, Koraput,Malkangiri, Kalahandi, Nuapada will pass through this line via Khurdha as it will be shorter by more than 200 KM than the rail link through Andhra Pradesh.
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Blue print on railway network expansion in Orissa
Prof Chitta Baral of Arizona University (USA) has done an extensive-intensive study on the need of the expansion of the rail network in Orissa. He has been educating policy makers and public in general about the importance of a good rail network. He has documented the current railway scenario in Orissa and prepared a blueprint for its expansion in the state which is mentioned in detail in the following paragraphs.
According to Prof Chitta Baral, the map of India clearly shows that the Orissa has a low rail density. A big part of the low density region in Orissa is located in KBK and Kandhamal districts. The question arises why rail connectivity is important for any region? The Planning Commission addresses this as follows:
"Railways have always played an important role in 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. There are as many as seven districts like Boudh, Kandhamal, Deogarh, Nayagarh, Kendrapara, Malkangiri and Nabarangpur out of the 30 districts of the state, which do not have any railway line passing through them. In the year 1998-99, the density of railway route length per 1000 sq. km of area in Orissa was only 15.03 km as against 42.66 km in West Bengal and 19.11 km. at all-India level”.
Consistent with the above report, the KBK and Kandhamala districts are among the most backward districts of the country. They are also Naxalite infested, have high tribal population and lack connectivity. In essence, they are another frontier of India like Jammu & Kashmir and the Northeast. It is very unfortunately that they are an overlooked frontier.
So, if the above is well-known why does not Indian Railways bring connectivity to KBK and Kandhamal. Indian Railways often cite the lack of profitability issue. But Indian Railway does build and plans to build unprofitable lines in J & K and North East. Also, their planned gauge conversion of 12,000 KMs involves a lot of unprofitable lines.
On the other hand Indian Railways makes a lot of profit from its operations in Orissa. The following table shows the profit Indian Railways projects to make from Orissa during 2008-09.
Prof Baral explains that the expansion of the rail connectivity is very important for the development of Orissa. Indian Railways earn lot of revenue and profit from Orissa, mostly by transporting minerals. Yet, rail density is among the lowest in states like Orissa and Chattisgarh. In essence, Indian Railways continue to be an exploiter of Orissa and Chhatisgarh and partly responsible for the backwardness of several districts of Orissa like KBK.
Exploitation of Orissa and Chhatisgarh by Indian Railways must STOP
Moreover, Orissa is being left out of several high profile and high budget railway initiatives of the 11th plan such as the first two freight corridors, metros and high speed rail lines.
Thus, it is imperative that Indian Railways add connectivity to the Kandhamala and KBK districts of Orissa on a war footing and in a time bound manner similar to efforts being made in J & K and the Northeast. In particular the following three lines must be completed within five years.
This will lead to the following network structure and the gap in the middle will vanish.
To fund these three and all the other lines in Orissa, all that is needed is that the Railway earns profits from Orissa should be invested in Orissa the next five years. This will come to Rs 12,500 crores in five years, which is 5% of the Rs 2,51,000 crores proposed budget of Indian Railways for the 11th plan.
In response to the above mentioned request, the Railway board chairperson Mr. Kalyan Jena said that one cannot say that the profit from a state should go to that state, as with this logic Mumbai will claim that all the taxes generated from Mumbai go to Mumbai. Then the rest of the country would lose.
We agree with the general principle behind Mr. Jena’s argument. Redistribution of resources across various regions of a country is normal and often necessary. But, Mr. Jena should know that in a welfare state the government takes from the rich and gives to the poor. Ironically, in case of Orissa, Indian Railways is doing reverse. Indian Railways is earning from the minerally rich but poor state like Orissa and diverting the same resources to rich metros like Mumbai and New Delhi and other states, where freight corridors, high speed rail and metro rail are being built.
To conclude, Indian Railways should pump more money in developing rail network in the backward regions in Orissa. It can certainly recover its investments and offer profits in the long run. Indian Railways should finish Kandhamal-KBK line and the Khurda Balangir line in the next five years.
(Author is active in mobilizing public opinion on expansion of railway network in Orissa)