Railways can't keep pace with Moorthy

CHENNAI OCT. 5. If the recent announcements by the Union Minister of State for Railways, A.K. Moorthy, are taken seriously, then Tamil Nadu will get a chunk of the budget allotment in the coming years.

In the last three months since he assumed office, he has been going on an assurance spree, saying various on-going projects, including road over/under bridges would be completed early and improved amenities provided at major stations. But it would be a herculean task to complete the works in next two or three years even if heavy funds are sanctioned.

Except two major projects — suburban gauge conversion between Beach and Tambaram and the second phase of the MRTS from Tirumailai to Velachery in Chennai — all schemes will take long to complete. While the suburban conversion is likely to be completed by 2004, the MRTS extension to Velachery will be over by the end of 2003.

Addressing pressmen in Madurai recently, the Minister said that in view of the increase in the passenger traffic on the Chennai Egmore-Kanyakumari broad gauge section, he would take steps to get sufficient funds for doubling and electrifying the entire section. But, even on a conservative estimate, the proposal would need at least Rs. 1,000 crores. Moreover, it was already rejected by his senior, Nitish Kumar, owing to insufficient freight traffic.

Again during his recent visit to Kumbakonam, Mr. Moorthy promised that the main line gauge conversion between Villupuram and Thanjavur would be over before March 2004. The cost of the project is Rs. 231 crores, of which only Rs. 3 crores has been spent so far. For the current year, the Ministry has allotted Rs. 5 crores. When officials pointed out to him that it would not be possible to complete the project as it was in its infancy, Mr. Moorthy clarified subsequently that the 38-km stretch between Kumbakonam and Thanjavur would be completed before March 2004 for Mahamaham.

Declaring open a computerised reservation centre at Sivaganga on Thursday, the Minister said the conversion work between Tiruchi and Rameswaram would be speeded up by getting more funds. The project consists of two segments, one between Tiruchi and Manamadurai and the other from Manamadurai to Rameswaram. The second comes under the Madurai-Rameswaram conversion project. The total cost of the project is about Rs. 350 crores. Even if sufficient funds are allotted in the coming budgets, it would take at least five more years to complete the conversion.

On the 85-km Karur-Salem new BG line, the Minister said he would take steps to complete the work by 2004. With land acquisition not yet over, the Rs. 229-crore project requires about Rs. 170 crores more for completion. As new lines are not a priority of the Ministry, it will be a wonder if the project is completed within the next four or five years.

Similar was his announcement on electrification of the Kancheepuram-Arakkonam section. He said the Defence Ministry had agreed to allot Rs. 23 crores, for relaying the line near the Arakkonam naval airbase. As the existing line is very close to the airbase, defence authorities are against electrifying the track and are for changing the alignment.

While the Railway Ministry is insisting on the Defence Ministry bearing the cost of laying the new track, the latter is not agreeable. The issue is still to be resolved. Even if the Defence Ministry agrees to pay the cost, land will have to be acquired for a detour before the new line is laid. Officials here said it would take at least two more years to complete the process.

The Minister's announcements on surveys for new lines between Tindivanam and Cuddalore via Pondicherry and to Mamallapuram from Tiruvanmiyur here, operation of new expresses between various cities and renovation of major stations were made without any budget sanction.

According to Ministry sources, as per the Railway Minister's new allocation formula, funds would be sanctioned based on the area and population of the State, and status of the project.

On that basis, many ongoing projects in Tamil Nadu would not get the required funds in the next budgets. At the most, they said, the Minister might get additional funds for some of the ongoing projects, besides a few new trains.

With the present financial crunch in the Ministry and amid demands for more funds from other States, the officials are sceptical of Mr. Moorthy's assurances on completion of projects.

Recommended for you