Gowda, holed up in a 90-minute meeting with the chief minister at Project Building this afternoon, promised all possible help to the state to complete five major railway track laying projects, pending since 2002.
These comprise work on Koderma-Hazaribagh-Barkakana-Ranchi, Ranchi-Lohardaga-Tori, Koderma-Giridih, Koderma-Tilaiya and Dumka-Rampurhat stretches.
However, the pending projects won’t be complete before March 2017, according to fresh deadlines sought by the railways. Highly placed government sources maintained that Hemant, in the next cabinet meeting, would formally extend the deadline, after which a fresh MoU will be inked between the state and railways.
Gowda, in his meeting with Hemant in the presence of chief secretary Sajal Chakraborty, development commissioner R.S. Poddar, chief minister’s principal secretary S.K. Satpathy, secretaries of revenue, forest and transport, Rajbala Verma, Alka Tiwary and K.K. Soan, respectively, promised all help for pending projects.
But, once outside Project Building and inside BJP state party headquarters in Harmu, Gowda’s accent underwent a shift.
“The progress of new rail projects has badly been hit because of lapses on the part of the state government. Law and order is a state subject. The state government is responsible for acquiring land and initiating moves for environment clearances. The state government has to share 50 per cent of the total expense incurred on rail projects and construction of road over-bridges, but it has not paid due amounts on time,” he told mediapersons at BJP state headquarters.
However, he emphasised that he was committed to smoothly completing the pending projects.
Gowda also promised more new trains for Jharkhand in the next budget, agreed to set up new rail factories in the state and improve rail security.
“Jharkhand accounts for one of the highest freight earnings by the railways. It is therefore our responsibility to give Jharkhand its due share. I assumed the railway minister’s charge only four months ago and tried my best safeguard Jharkhand interests in my maiden rail budget. The next rail budget will coming after four months or so. It will adequately take care of its longstanding demands,” he said.
Naxalites often target blowing up railway tracks. On a micro level, loot-and-drug gangs have a free run on board many trains. For now, law and order was one of his chief priorities for Jharkhand, he stressed.
“Poor law and order is a big issue in Jharkhand. We will soon recruit 17,000 Railway Protection Force constables, including 4,000 women, and depute them at strategic locations,” he said.
The latest MoU for the pending railway lines, after extensions, expired in March 2013.
About a couple of months ago, the state cabinet resolved to renew the MoU till February 2016 on the condition that these projects would be complete in the given time frame or else the Railway Board would bear all expenses instead of the 50:50 pact. But that deadline has been deferred for another year.
When the projects started, the total cost was estimated at Rs 1,997 crore, with the state’s share being 67 per cent. Later, central and state shares were revised to an equal 50 per cent each. But, with project delays, rising inflation have now put the project cost at Rs 5,775 crore.
So far, the state has given over Rs 2,219 crore to Railway Board, but needs to give around Rs 1,002 crore more.
More nuggets were to come from the BJP leader later.
“I am perhaps the country’s only railway minister who did not announce any new rail project in his maiden budget. I don’t believe in politicising development issues. Several organisations today approached me with demand for new trains and rail routes. These would be given careful consideration,” he said.
He added that he was confident of BJP coming to power in Jharkhand. “The entire country is looking up to Prime Minister Narendra Modi with great expectations. We are set to form stable governments led by our party in Maharashtra and Haryana. The BJP’s success in Jharkhand too is imminent,” he said.
The Union minister, also the former Karnataka chief minister, had a hectic day once he reached Ranchi from New Delhi by a scheduled flight around 9am today.
Right after reaching the state capital, Gowda chaired a meeting with senior railway officials at a city hotel near Ranchi station.
South Eastern Railway general manager Radheshyam, four divisional railway managers — Ranchi’s Deepak Kashyap, Kharagpur’s Gautam Banerjee, Chakradharpur’s A. Agrawal and Adra’s Arvind Mittal — as well as heads of different SER departments spoke to the Union minister on various technical and administrative issues.
Tomorrow, Gowda’s itinerary includes attending a programme at Chatra organised by BJP MP Sunil Singh. He will return to Delhi in the afternoon.
-The Telegraph, Calcutta