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Stop Blaming; Work In Tandem

Bhubaneswar: Everybody starts crying for the poor railway connectivity in Odisha, when the Union Government presents the annual Budget. As expected both the governing Biju Janata Dal and opposition Bharatiya Janata Party are out with their swords of words to counter each other, over railway allocation for 2021-22. While the BJP government claims that it has allocated a lot for the railway development for Odisha, the regional outfit begs to differ.

Therefore, the fight is on and the BJD spokespersons have thrown down the gauntlet to the BJP leaders to bring out the real truth. The difference between the two major parties may be due to political reasons, but the fact remains that Odisha is neglected in the railways sector, and it is certainly historic.

There is no gain saying the shortage of rail network in Odisha which compares poorly with neighboring states. While West Bengal’s railway density is 42 kilometer per 1,000 square kilometers and 35 KM in Bihar, it is measly 15 KM in Odisha.

The worst part of the story is that even after 75 years of Independence, the people of at least five districts- Kandhamal, Boudh, Deogarh, Nabarangpur and Malkangiri, have not seen trains in their areas. Is it not a concern for the politicians of these districts and the state leadership at large? Both the ruling and opposition parties are quite aware that expansion of the railway network helps boost the economy, particularly in the rural areas, and its shortage is certainly one of the major factors for the backwardness of Odisha.

The state was fortunate to have a railway line because of its geographical location between Kolkata and Chennai. Since the British Raj had the compulsion to connect these important cities, the rail line passed through Odisha and the state got its benefits incidentally.

However, after all these years, Odisha has got only six railway lines like Cuttack-Paradeep (83 KM), Talcher-Sambalpur (174 KM), Koraput-Rayagada (164 KM), Daitari-Bansapani (155 KM), Lanjigarh-Junagarh (56 KM) and Khurda-Bolangir line which has not yet been  fully completed till date. Of the 290 km Khurda-Bolangir railway line, only 90 km is completed in a span of 25 years.

This is despite the fact that the State Government bears half of the cost and free land for the purpose.  According to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, Khurda-Bolangir railway line is a “historic slow effort”. If the speed in which the project is going on it may require another 10 years to complete the Khurda-Bolangir line.

Then who is responsible for this snail’s pace of the project? Has not the state government contributed for the delay? The Railways officials claim that delay in land acquisition has been a major factor for the slow progress. Rs 1,000 crore has been allocated for the Khurda-Bolangir railway line for 2021-22. However, it is actually Rs 500 crore as the railways have not spent the remaining Rs 500 crore allocated the previous year.  

Why should not the officials be held accountable for the delay? Unless the people at the helm are held accountable, the projects would certainly get delayed and the state will suffer the consequences.

The Governments must ensure that the timeline is not deviated. However, nobody has so far been punished for whom the entire state as well as the country suffers. The people are paid for their work and not executing the projects and completing them in time are also offences.

This apart, the State Government and the governing BJD cannot escape responsibility just blaming the Centre for the low allocation and poor railway density in the state. Keeping in view the requirement of the state and its future progress, the Odisha Government must set up a separate department to look after the railway development in Odisha.

Now, the state’s Commerce and Transport department has been assigned the job of looking after railways along with Ports, Waterways, Transport and also Commerce. Therefore, the state is unable to focus on the railway sector, which is one of the top priorities for the state. One of the most efficient leaders with vision should be made a minister and he should be assigned the specific responsibility of completing railway projects in scheduled time.

It is, however, a fact that the allocation for the expansion of railways in the state has increased more during the Narendra Modi’s NDA Government period in comparison to the previous UPA Government but, what is the benefit if the funds are not utilized properly in a time-bound manner. The BJP leaders including Dharmendra Pradhan should not shed their responsibilities only by claiming that Prime Minister Mr.Modi gave more funds for Railways. It is the primary responsibilities of the BJP Member of Parliament and Union Minister to ensure that the projects are implemented properly in a time-bound manner in order to make the Prime Minister’s contribution productive.    

BJD Spokesperson Lenin Kumar Mohanty has alleged that though the Indian Railways collects at least Rs 20,000 crore revenue per annum from the State, even a fraction of it is not provided for development of rail infrastructure in Odisha. He said, the Centre has collected Rs 1.40 lakh crore as revenue from railways in Odisha and allocated only Rs 14,000 crore in seven years. Going by these figures, it is concluded that NDA supported railways development in Odisha in big manner than the previous UPA government. And the saffron leaders should also realize that that could be a reason for which the country’s oldest party has lost its base in the state. The BJP should not toe the line of the Congress if they want to remain in power for a long time.

When the political parties are engaged in fighting against each other, they should understand that the state’s first rail track was laid by the erstwhile ruler of Mayurbhanj State, Maharaja Sriram Chandra Bhanj Deo. The first section of 52 km from Rupsa to Baripada was opened for traffic on 20 January 1905. Rupsa was the junction with Bengal Nagpur Railway’s 1,676 mm (5 ft 6 in) broad gauge line.

If a Maharaja could do this during the British period, why can’t the present-day leaders do it in Independent India? Just stop blaming each other and work in tandem to develop the railways infrastructure in Odisha.