Anticipating problems related to land acquisition in West Bengal, the Railways might take a preemptive step of pushing by a couple of years the deadline for completion of its ambitious 3,300-km-long dedicated freight corridor project. Running through the eastern and western flanks of the country, the corridor will now be completed by 2018 instead of its earlier schedule of 2016, officials close to the matter told FE.
This is because the Railways still has to acquire around 1,000 acres of land in Bengal to lay the tracks for a section of the dedicated corridor and is apprehensive about completing this land acquisition on time, given the history of agitations for land in Bengal. And with the state being ruled by firebrand TMC leader Mamata Banerjee, an estranged ally of the Congress, there is fear that the acquisition process would not be smooth.
This is for the first time that Railways has taken into account the prevailing political situation to make adjustments in its project schedule.
The corridor, funded by Japanese banks and the World Bank, and to be built at an estimated cost of R90,000 crore, involves construction of 540 km of railway lines for freight movement spanning from Sonnagar in Bihar to Dankuni in West Bengal.
We are in the process of notifying land in Bengal and once it is done, objections from land owners would be considered by the Railways and the local authorities. Given the history of land acquisitions problems in Bengal, we are proposing to push the deadline by a couple of years, a senior railway board official said.
The 540-km-long section of the corridor from Sonnagar in Bihar to Dankuni in Bengal has to come up on a public-private partnership model. But being a big-ticket railway project with an investment of around R15,000 crore, it will also be hard for the Railways to find a private partner to invest in the project.
Though theres a steering committee to clear land acquisition issues, it could still take time. Finding a private player for such a big project can also take time. We are breaking the 540-km-long section into two parts, the official added.
The stretch, which is an extension of the eastern freight corridor, is expected to primarily carry coal and iron ore traffic in the Dhanbad, Jharia and Raniganj region.
The dedicated freight corridor corporation (DFCC), a special purpose vehicle under the rail ministry, has acquired approximately 8,000 hectares of land over nine states and 61 districts in a span of less than three years without any major upheaval. The speed has been spurred by the fact that land acquisition is one of the preconditions for funds from the World Bank and Japan Industrial Cooperation Agency (JICA), the agencies funding the eastern and western corridors, respectively.