BESIDES SPECIAL status for Andhra Pradesh, one of the key demands raised by the TDP is the creation of a new railway zone in Visakhapatnam, as per the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act, 2014. However, in an internal report, the Railways Ministry has said that this will have a “catastrophic” effect, and “will be like putting many nails in the coffin of the Indian Railways”.
According to the report, prepared by senior officers of the Railway Board, the demand for a new zone to benefit a particular state “vitiates the pan-national character of the Indian Railways” and goes against the idea of the “forefathers of the nation”, who unified 42 small railways of the princely states into six zones in the 1950s.
The report, which lists nine arguments against the demand, was submitted last December.
Stating that trains cut across regional and geographical boundaries, it says that “any new barrier will result in slowing down of train operation, bring down operational mobility, commercial viability, and result in wastage of resources.”
Assessing the operational challenges, the report says a further break-up of the East Coast Railway zone, which has three divisions — Khurda Road, Sambalpur and Waltair (Visakhapatnam) — will create operational bottlenecks in loading of coal and minerals in what is currently the highest loading zone in India. It says the three divisions in the zone cannot be separated.
Stating that a new zone would burden the financial health of Railways “in a catastrophic way”, through capital expenditure and recurring expenses, it says the experiment of creating new zones “10-11 years back has… created coordination problems, surge in expenditure, huge under-utilisation, inefficient use of infrastructure, and massive and adverse impact on manpower planning.”
Comparing the structure and importance of Railways with that of the Army, it says just as the Army requires a “critical mass” to fight a battle/ war, and a minimum composition of a brigade/ division/ corps/ command “cannot be distributed or played around with”, the Railways, too, cannot be divided on state lines.
“Due to continuous lurking of financial crisis, choked routes, and a huge demand for more and more services, Indian Railways is fighting a continuous ‘war’ on a daily basis,” it says. “Any further fragmentation of Railways will be like putting many nails in the coffin of the Indian Railways as there is no need for any new zone, operationally or administratively.”
According to the report, there are 51 demands for 12 new zones and 69 demands for 35 additional divisions pending at present. Regarding development of Andhra Pradesh’s railway infrastructure, it says there are sanctioned projects worth Rs 41,303 crore for the state, Rs 12,536 crore for Telangana, and Rs 40,641 crore for Odisha.