Two years ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Setu Bharatam scheme for building 208 bridges at railway crossings on national highways to ensure safe and smooth flow of traffic. As on February 8, 2018, no bridge has been operationalised under the scheme, and construction work has begun only for 24.
In 2014-15 a total of 130 lives were lost, while 2015-16 saw 58 persons being killed due to the unmanned railway level crossings (URLC). In 2016-17, URLC accidents were 16.23 per cent out of the total consequential train accidents, according to the Ministry of Railways. There were 7,701 URLCs in India as on April 1, 2017.
“Out of 208 railway over bridges (ROBs) identified under Setu Bharatam scheme, General Arrangement Drawings (GADs) for 121 ROBs have been approved by Ministry of Railways so far. 90 ROBs have been sanctioned by this ministry so far and works on 24 ROBs are in progress till date. No ROB included under Setu Bharatam Scheme is commissioned till date,” the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways told The Indian Express on February 8, 2018, in response to queries submitted under the Right to Information Act, 2005.
The roads ministry added: “All efforts are taken to expedite the approval process for remaining ROBs and to start the works for remaining sanctioned ROBs.” On March 4, 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched Setu Bharatam scheme and stated that a good infrastructure network is vital for the growth and development of a nation.
During the scheme’s launch, Nitin Gadkari, Minister for Road Transport & Highways, Shipping and Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, had said that the Setu Bharatam aims to make all national highways free of railway level crossings by 2019. He had stated that this is being done to prevent the frequent accidents and loss of lives at level crossings, adding that 208 ROBs/RUBs will be built at the railway level crossings at a cost of Rs 20,800 crore as part of the scheme.
According to a senior government official, the scheme has been facing some hurdles and the government will sort them out soon. During the fifth meeting of the “Group of Infrastructure” ministers on August 3, 2017, the slow progress of Setu Bharatam scheme was discussed. The minutes of the meeting state: “The Group was informed about the status of award of works for ROB projects by roads ministry/its implementation agencies under Setu Bharatam after clearance of the ROBs by Railways. Out of 100 GAD drawings for ROBs approved by Railways, only 26 projects could be awarded in 1.5 to 2 years. Honourable Minister for Roads Transport and Highways (Gadkari) opined that this requires to be expedited considering the priority of this signature initiative of the government.”
It was decided at this meeting that Yudhvir Singh Malik, secretary, Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, would review the status of work award for ROB projects with concerned officials of his ministry and its implementation agencies and take necessary steps to expedite award and execution. Malik did not respond to the queries mailed by The Indian Express.
The August 3 meeting was attended by three ministers: Nitin Gadkari, Minister for Road Transport and Highways, Shipping and Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation; Piyush Goyal, the then Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Power, Coal, New and Renewable Energy and Mines; and Harsh Vardhan, Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. A month after the meeting, Goyal was appointed as Minister of Railways and Coal.
At the August 3 meeting, railway officials raised the issue of delay in closure of crossings even after the clearance of ROBs by them. “It was clarified that closure of railway level crossings is the joint responsibility of the railways authorities and the concerned district administration,” the minutes of this meeting stated. Therefore, it was decided that the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), which comes under roads ministry, should inform Ministry of Railways “promptly on completion and commissioning of ROBs based on which Railways shall close the corresponding level crossings, jointly with the concerned district administration”.
The meeting also saw a discussion on the issue of the agreements for construction of ROBs/RUBs on national highways, which have been signed with various zones of Railways, have different conditions in different cases. “For example, Western Railway Mumbai has issued 2-3 types of agreements for construction of ROBs/RUBs on national highways…It was requested that Railways may issue a standard agreement for ROBs/RUBs for all zonal Railways,” the minutes of the meeting stated. In response, the Ministry of Railways informed that the concern has been sorted out. However, it was decided that roads ministry or NHAI will prepare a draft agreement and submit to Ministry of Railways for further “discussion, refinement and adaptation”.