Though the Railway Act does not have a provision, under which railway land can be utilised for commercial usage, the ministry has been using vacant land under its control for various commercial activities. Railway minister Lalu Prasad Yadav on Thursday informed the Lok Sabha that vacant land had been used for plantation, pisciculture, railway activities like loading and unloading of goods, and even property development through bidding.
In fact, he said that land was also given to government departments and PSUs on long lease.
Senior ministry officials said that railways had taken land on long lease from various state governments.
The state governments have often raised objections on these issues and have asked the ministry to share revenues generated through such activities with them.
Though ministry officials claim to have never given in the pressure tactics of the state governments and even deny knowledge of any legal battles over such issues, they do admit that such problems arise due to grey areas in the Act.
The ministrys claim is that loading, unloading, warehousing are railway- related activities. For that matter, industry watchers say that railway itself is a commercial activity, therefore these are grey areas, which have been there for more than a century now, ever since the Act came into being.
The ministry officials counter claim that state governments dont seek revenue sharing in agricultural activities undertaken by railways on such land, but where they see profit generation, they apply pressure. They cite examples wherein when railways proposed setting up a shopping mall (something not related to railway), there were objections in Mumbai.
Currently the ministry has 42,846 hectares of land lying vacant at its disposal. Most of this land is located in longitudinal strips alongside the tracks.
Therefore, railway officials are eagerly awaiting the clearance of the Bill, by Parliament during the ongoing monsoon session.
If this is done, it will facilitate the setting up of Rail Land Development Authority (RLDA), wherein the ministry would be free to use land for commercial usage without any pressure.
The officials say that once this is done, all the anomalies would be removed and the commercialisation of land would generate revenue for them.
The ministry is expecting Parliamentary leave for presenting the Bill within a weeks time during the current session.