No separate zone in sight for state: Dreams Derail


After years of indecision, the Railways recently set up a committee to study the long-pending demand for a separate zone for Kerala, where almost all major rail projects go “dead slow” for want of funds.

Now it seems the State’s zone dreams are fading with the reported move by the Railway board to sanction Tirunelveli division for which areas like Chengulam, Nagercoil and Kanyakumari would be carved out of Thiruvananthapuram division.

“Serious efforts are being taken by certain quarters that will bust the State’s zone dreams. Tamil Nadu already has three divisions and now it’s going to have another one.”

“The Minister of State for railways, Mr K.H. Muniappa, sure is an influential man. He caters to interests of his State also.

A new division outside Kerala will further reduce available track kilometers, one of the main criteria for allotting a new zone,” Mr O. Rajagopal, former junior Railway Minister, said.

The State’s woes, in terms of slow development of rail infrastructure in its territory, could be settled only if a separate zone with headquarters in Kerala was allotted, said Mr Rajagopal.

Now there are 17 zones; the Railway board has received nearly 30 proposals over the last three years for new zones and divisions.

Last month, the Railways set up a six-member committee to examine proposals for new zones, a decade after it embarked on such an exercise.

The committee is expected to submit its report within six months.

Mr P Raju, former general manager of Rail India Technical and Economic Services Urban Transport, said there was no point in creating Tirunelveli division out of the present Madurai.

“It will further weaken Kerala’s zone demands as more areas will be taken out of the Thiruvananthapuram division, which will make it too small an area to be considered for a zone.”

A zone is possible by combining at least three divisions. Kerala has Palakkad and hiruvananthapuram divisions and needs another one from TN to be incorporated for setting up the zone.

“The Chennai zone already has six divisions, so three of them can be combined to form another zone.

But the Southern Railway headquarters does not want that to happen as two of the major revenue-earning potential destinations lie in Kerala-based divisions –Kochi harbor and Mangalore, having immense freight potential that can turn in big revenues,” Raju said.

Upon sanctioning a new zone, if goods trains originate from these points the revenue would go to the zone.

“Our politicians should press for a zone by combining Palakkad, Thiruvananthapuram, Salem and Tirunelveli divisions, which is necessary for administrative purposes too. It’s to be done at PM’s level,” the expert said.

Mr Rajagopal charged the MPs with failing to convince Centre of the need for a separate zone. “There should be a united move otherwise the State’s rail development would continue to lag,” he said.

Fund shortage costs projects dear

The urgent need for an exclusive zone to speed up various rail projects is growing as evident in long delays experienced by a cluster of projects.

The Sabari rail project, sanctioned as back as 1998, has remained a non-starter owing to funds shortage.

Other similar projects are track doubling in Kayamkulam-Alappuzha-Ernakulam and Kottayam sectors besides electrification work.

“In Kerala, land acquisition is a major problem, which slows down work. So in many cases funds allotted for work get diverted to Chennai resulting in the non-realization or inordinate delay in the execution of projects,” said Kerala Congress chairman P.C. Thomas.

Funds allotment is not equitable. Palakkad and Thiruvananthapuram divisions get much less compared to other divisions.

“Though there is scope for carving out a new zone from Chennai zone of 8,600 sq km, the Chennai lobby does not want that to happen,” said Mr Thomas, who took the initiative for Sabari rail, back in 1989.

Till now only the land acquisition of around five km has been completed though the proposed railway line to Sabarimala from Angamali is about 136 km long.

Another problem is that funds allotted in budgets for projects in Kerala are not properly utilized. Often funds are diverted, resulting in Kerala projects being delayed indefinitely.

“Now many demands of Palakkad and Thiruvananthapuram divisions are not being sanctioned, citing lack of funds.

If a separate zone is formed, chances are more that such projects will get priority,” a railway official in Thiruvananthapuram division said.

‘special zone may not do good to state’

The former Railway Board chairman, Mr M.N. Prasad, has said a railway zone is not going to boost the overall development of railways in Kerala.

Mr Prasad told DC that the State should instead pitch for track doubling, electrification and gauge conversion.

Owing to the lack of maintenance facilities, trains already allotted to the State had not started running. The State should give priority to land acquisition for new tracks, instead of seeking new trains.

Doubling the remaining part of the Kottayam tracks and the Alappuzha line was also important, he said.

Another issue that needed immediate attention was gauge conversion on Palakkad-Pollachi stretch and Kollam-Shengottai line. Even the longstanding demand for tracks to be laid till Sabari had not been fulfilled.

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