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Tuesday, Jun 18, 2002

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New rly zone plan causes concern

Our Bureau

KOLKATA, June 17

IS the Railway Minister, Mr Nitish Kumar, planning to revive the old proposal (mooted by Mr Ram Vilas Paswan during his tenure but on which not much progress was made) for the creation of new zonal railways?

Reports have it that Mr Nitish Kumar is going ahead with the plan to have a new zonal railway, East Central Railway (with Hazipur in Bihar as its headquarters by October and others in due course.

Mr Paswan had planned to create five new zonal railways, namely East Coast Railway (Bhubaneswar), North Western Railway (Jaipur), North Central Railway (Allahabad), South Western Railway (Bangalore) and South Central Railway (Bilaspur).

However, his plans did not make much headway, reportedly in view of stiff resistance from the then Railway Board.

The Railway Board's opposition, if any, might not be without reasons. The creation of new zonal railways might be politically expedient but not economically viable as this would only add to the cost, not to the railways' earnings. There would be promotional opportunities for a section of senior railway officers as new posts of GMs, CoMs, CFTS, CCS and others would be created. But there would hardly be any scope for generation of additional businesses.

The situation has not much changed since Mr Paswan's days. If at all, it has only worsened, with the railways now struggling to achieve the freight targets. In such a situation, to push any proposal that would only slap additional burden on the railways appears strange to many officials in the railways.

The report has already created a stir in concerned circles. For example, the East Central Railway with Hazipur as headquarters is proposed to be created by taking three of the existing divisions of the Eastern Railway (ER) namely Dhanbad, Danapur and Mughalsarai and two divisions of the North Eastern Railway namely Sonepur and Samastipur.

Once this is done, ER's freight earning capacity will be seriously curbed. After all, the coal traffic generated by the Dhanbad division is the main source of ER's freight earning.

Similarly, if a new division is subsequently created by taking away Bilaspur out of the ambit of South Eastern Railway (SER), then SER too would be badly hit.

At least two unions of ER are believed to be already up in arms against any such move.

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