T.V. Sivanandan and Rishikesh Bahadur Desai

Several major demands of Hyderabad Karnataka region are pending for several years

The proposal had been given the green signal by Nitish KumarThe Railway Board rejected it fearing similar demands from other regionsIt was proposed to include Gulbarga, Bidar, Raichur, Koppal, Bellary and parts of Bijapur in the new division

GULBARGA/BIDAR: Will the Railway Budget to be presented by Railway Minister Lalu Prasad in Parliament on Friday end the long wait of the backward Hyderabad Karnataka region for improved railway network and infrastructure is the question haunting the minds of the people.

One of the major demands of the region pending for the past several decades has been the establishment of a railway division with its headquarters in Gulbarga city, which will help usher in development of railway infrastructure in the region. During the National Democratic Alliance Government rule at the Centre, the proposal for a railway division in Gulbarga was almost given the nod. But it ran into hurdles after the Railway Board developed cold feet fearing similar demands from other regions.

Former Railway Minister Nitish Kumar gave the green signal to the proposal made by the then Minister of State for Railways Basanagouda Patil Yatnal, who hails from Bijapur district, and it had been decided that the new division will be part of the South Central Railways with the zonal headquarters at Secunderabad. It was also proposed to include Gulbarga, Bidar, Raichur, Koppal and Bellary districts and parts of Bijapur district in the new division. However, the previous Government put it in the cold storage, and the United Progressive Alliance Government failed to concede it in the two earlier Railway Budgets despite the forceful demand made by the N. Dharam Singh Government.

At present, there are only three railway divisions serving more than 3,150 km of railway tracks in the State, whereas there are seven divisions in Maharashtra and six in Andhra Pradesh. The average population per railway division is 1.1 crore in Maharashtra and 1.10 crore in Andhra Pradesh, while it is 1.49 crore in Karnataka.

A high-power committee appointed by the Railway Ministry recommended in 1984 the creation of a division headquarters in Gulbarga city by including 275 km of railway line from Hotgi Junction to Mantrayalam Road, 383 km railway line from Wadi to Parali Vaijnath and 120 km new railway line connecting Gulbarga and Bidar cities in the proposed division.

Another long pending demand is the early completion of the new rail link between Gulbarga and Bidar, for which the foundation stone was laid by the then Minister of State for Railways Bangaru Lakshman five years ago. Due to scanty allocation of funds, the Railways has not even acquired lands required for laying the line.

Although the Gulbarga-Bidar rail line has been declared as an important one that will reduce the distance between Bangalore and New Delhi, the Railway Ministry has not done much for the project. According to information available, the Railways has released Rs. 49.45 crores against the estimated cost of Rs. 369.7 crores so far.

The Railways has also changed its plans. Earlier, it was to lay the tracks for 116 km at a cost of Rs. 242.42 crores. Then, it was decided to extend the line to 140 km at a cost of Rs. 369.7 crores. Subsequently, it included the Humnabad-Bhalki line, which was not part of the original plan.

Sources in the State Government told The Hindu that the Railways' demand for land has resulted in a fresh survey. The sources said around 81 per cent of the land has been acquired and handed over to the Railways in Bidar. Of the 53 km of the line passing through Bidar, land acquisition has been completed for 43 km. Earthwork has also been completed in about 70 per cent of the acquired land.

Even now, the region does not have a direct rail link with the Bombay Karnataka region and passengers have to take a circuitous route to reach a place in that region. Originally, a proposal to give rail connectivity between these two regions was made in 1909 at an estimated cost of Rs. 1.86 crores.

Whether the Railway Budget prove to be a boon to the region or the region continues to get a raw deal remains to be seen.