Bordered in the by Nagpur-Raipur Railway line, in the east by Raipur-Rayagada line, in the south by Rayagada-Koraput-Jagdalpur-Kirandul line and on the west by Nagpur-Kazipet line is a huge swathe of Indian peninsula devoid of any railway network. Consequently, this area stretching for about 300km from north to south, and 500km east to west has not witnessed any appreciable economic growth. A preserve of Adivasis, and now increasingly the Maoists and Naxal cadres, this sparsely populated area that boasts of the Dandakaranya forest of the Ramayana fame, is served mostly by roads winding their way through the thick growth, and vast patches of shrubland with occasionally cultivated fields. The region, which covers the Bastar district, will soon be humming with activity when 4,000 tonnes payload freight trains of high-grade iron ore from the Rowghat mines start carrying it to Bhilai Steel Plant (BSP), and a year later passengers services get introduced.
Faced with its fast depleting mines in Dalli Rajhara, BSP will get a much-needed new source of iron ore with a proven reserve of more than 700 million tonnes of high-grade deposits with iron (Fe) content nearing 60%. Discovered in 1899, these deposits would help BSP to ramp up its output from the current 4-7 million tonnes annually.
It will also open up a new route for passengers to travel between Raipur and Jagdalpur, which is 235km south, serving over a dozen towns, and hopefully, spur economic growth in this backward and sorely neglected area.
At present, two of Indian Railways’ subsidiaries—RVNL (Rail Vikas Nigam Ltd) and IRCON (Indian Railway Construction Organisation)—are engaged in carrying out this Herculean task. The work on Phase-1 of 95km from Dalli-Rajhara to Rowghat is being executed by RVNL, while IRCON will complete Phase-2 of 135km from Rowghat to Jagdalpur.
The Phase-1, costing Rs 1,141 crore would be entirely financed by SAIL, while Rs 2,512 crore price tag of Phase-2 will be shared between Railways, SAIL, NMDC and Chhattisgarh government.
The project involves combined efforts of many government agencies, such as SAIL which will provide funds and set up security camps for paramilitary forces, Chhattisgarh Electricity Board will shift the overhead power lines, state forest department will cut trees and transport felled logs, and the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), under the aegis of the home ministry, will handle the threat of Naxal attacks. Ensuring security and safety of personnel by frequent patrolling, area domination and regular de-mining of the work area, all crucial for successful completion of the project is to be done entirely by SSB, whose track record, unfortunately, so far has not been very inspiring.
Two months ago, 25 jawans of SSB were massacred at Sukma, and recently on May 8, an RCIED (Remote Control Improvised Explosive Device) exploded near KM 70, just 50metres ahead of an RVNL survey party. These incidents have put a question-mark on the capability, commitment and quality of its leadership.
Understandably, given the sense of fear and constant shadow of death under which the staff has to work, RVNL could complete only 17km between 2009-15. Apart from the reduction in working hours due to night curfew, frequent Naxalite calls for bandh and Shaheedi Saptah, etc, have also taken their toll.
Despite the multifarious handicaps under which it has to perform, RVNL expects to complete the alignment up to KM 80 by May 2019. Reaching beyond, up to Rowghat, involves the construction of a major 6×100 span bridge to cross river Mendaki which may involve another year’s wait, as a major security camp for SSB is yet to be set up by SAIL at Kosoranda.
The 95km section from Dalli-Rajhara to Rowghat would have stations at Gudum, Bhanupratappur, Kewati, Antagarh, and Taroki, changing the lives of their inhabitants forever when the line is opened for freight up to Rowghat by December 2020.
However, the residents of towns on the 135km stretch beyond Rowghat towards Jagdalpur, viz Baranda, Narayanpur, Chandganv, Jugani, Kondagaon, Baniaganv, Dhikonga, Bhanpuri, Sonarpal, Bastar and Kudkanar would have to wait a little longer since it now involves entering deep in the forest, and Naxal stronghold.