Trees on over 110 hectares of forest land have been felled and the entire area will be cleared soon to make way for a 95-km rail line between Dalli-Rajhara and Rowghat in Chhattisgarh.

However, even as the forests are cleared, the Rowghat project — complete with a railway network as well as an iron ore mining facility — seems plagued by security concerns.

The area, apart from being under dense forest cover, is also a Maoist stronghold. The Rowghat project is critical for the Bhilai Steel Plant of Steel Authority India Ltd. The area has been identified as having huge reserves of iron ore and the construction of the railway line will facilitate transportation of Rowghat ore to Bhilai. The plant now gets ore from from the Dalli-Rajhara mines.

According to experts, the Dalli-Rajhara reserves will be exhausted within five-six years. Rowghat is expected to supply four-five million tonnes annually in the first four years, and then increase to nine million tonnes.

Some progress has been made in preliminary railway work, particularly in the construction of the embankment, over 20 km of the proposed 95-km rail-line. The line will ultimately be extended to Jagdalpur covering a total distance of 240 km. The authorities also hope to complete preliminary work over another 22 km up to Keoti and, accordingly, contracts have been awarded.

However, those working for the project are keeping their fingers crossed.

The pace of work so far has been pitifully slow. In many project areas, work can happen only for limited time. The fallout of ignoring the Maoist diktat could be serious. The fate of the remaining 53-km stretch through Maoist area, therefore, is anybody’s guess.

Meanwhile, responding to the Chhattisgarh Government’s request for special contingents of security forces to expedite the work, the Union Home Ministry is believed to have agreed to provide four contingents of CRPF — three for railway work and one for the mining project. SAIL, it is learnt, will bear the security cost.

The issue of providing jobs to those evicted from the land acquired for the project, too, it is learnt, is causing concern. The Railways has so far provided jobs to 206 people with indications of absorbing another 50 or so, subject to eligibility. But the local demand is for many more. SAIL, which is also supposed to provide jobs to the affected people, has made it clear that the job-seekers have to wait till the mining project is ready for production.

santanu.sanyal@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on July 16, 2012)
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