Bifurcation of division to affect rail development

Hopes of getting a railway zone dashed

S. Anil Radhakrishnan

Thiruvananthapuram: The decision to form a new railway division based in Salem, by carving out some sections from Palakkad division, and wind up the office of the Chief Engineer (Construction) in the capital will hamper the development of the railway network in the State in a big way.

The announcement of Union Minister for Railways Lalu Prasad that Salem division, the sixth of Southern Railway and fourth in Tamil Nadu, would be formed has come as a jolt to the State's aspirations for an exclusive railway zone for itself.

"Railway development will be affected in a big way as the State's claim for an exclusive zone will not materialise once the sections in Tamil Nadu that are now under Palakkad division are carved out for creating the new division," said the former Union Minister of State for Railway O. Rajagopal said. Of the 1,169 km of railway line in Palakkad division, only 441.9 km falls within Kerala.

A Tamil Nadu-based lobby is trying to include all stations from Walayar to Dharmapuri in Salem in the new division. Sankaridurg, Salem and Mettur dam, which record the highest freight earnings, will be shifted to Salem, leading to a dwindling of revenues for Palakkad division. Besides, the State will lose many facilities, such as the emergency relief train. The biggest unit of the relief train is based in Erode, which is going to the new division.

The Palakkad division, formed on August 31, 1956, extends from Tiruppatur, near Jolarpet outer, to Mangalore, Coimbatore to Mettupalayam-Ooty, Shornur to Nilambur, Palakkad to Puthunagaram and Erode Nagar to Tiruchi town. A proposal is also under consideration to carve out some more sections from it to create a new division based in Mangalore under the Hubli-based South Western Railway zone.

Works to be affected

The move to wind up the office of Chief Engineer (Construction) has been kept under wraps following the criticism of the creation of the new division. The post was created when Mr. Rajagopal was Minister. Railway sources said the field office of the Deputy Chief Engineer (Construction) had already been merged with that of the office of Chief Engineer (Construction) as part of the move.

If the office is wound up, the divisional authorities will have to go to Chennai for procedures related to development works. According to estimates, the railways have to take up works at a cost of Rs. 3,000 crores in the State. Of this, works estimated at Rs. 1,000 crores are on. Once the zone is sanctioned, the authorities can directly approach the Railway Board for new trains, railway lines, passenger amenities and other development works.

Mr. Rajagopal said the minimum kilometres needed for retaining the division would be lost and it would result in the winding up of the Palakkad division. He said the Congress, in power at the Centre, and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), supporting that Government, should take steps to get a railway zone for the State.

The former Chairman of the Railway Board M.N. Prasad said bifurcating railway divisions for political reasons was questionable. Creating a railway division because of increasing workload in another could be justified. "The reasons for setting up a division in Salem are merely political. Kerala will be left with a division and a half. It shows that the elected representatives have failed to protect the interests of the State," he said.

Southern Railway has five divisions: Chennai, Tiruchirappalli, Madurai, Palakkad and Thiruvanthapuram. The Thiruvanthapuram division, the youngest of Southern Railway, was formed on October 2, 1979, by carving out the Shoranur-Kochi Harbour section from the erstwhile Olavakkot division and Ernakulam-Thiruvanthapuram section from Madurai division.

Of the 794 km of railway line under Thiruvananthapuram divison, 734 km is in Kerala. The jurisdiction of the division extends from Melapalayam, near Tirunelveli, to Kanyakumari and from Kanyakumari to Vallathol Nagar and 1 km of the Kollam-Shencottah stretch.

Another damaging move

There is also a move to carve out areas in Tamil Nadu from Thiruvananthapuram division. If this succeeds, it will become one of the smallest divisions, with jurisdiction only from Parassala to Ernakulam. The remaining stretch towards north is proposed to be included in Palakkad.

Minister for Railways Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan told The Hindu that the Government was aware of the ramifications for the State following the bifurcation of Palakkad division. "We have decided to take up the matter with the Union Government. The issue will be taken up at the highest level when Chief Minister Oommen Chandy leaves for New Delhi next month. The needs of the State will also be taken up with the Centre," he added.

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