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Kashmir Rail Link : A Bureaucratic Disaster...

Posted By: Suresh Tripathi

"The Railways has always operated from a position of strength. This would be the first time when we will be announcing to the whole world that we were totally wrong. I do not think we can do that...!"
“Can we afford to tell the Prime Minister we’ve made a serious mistake? But mentioning costs could put us behind bars... the Railways will lose credibility... and it will amount to not a national but an international catastrophe...!”
NEW DELHI : These are some of the startling fears expressed by senior-most Railway officials connected with the bungled 'Kashmir Rail Link Project' in a brainstorming session organised in June 2008 by Mr Shriprakash, then general manager, Northern Railway. The official audio-recordings of the event, reveal not only the construction fiasco along the most crucial 120-km Katra-Banihal stretch of the national project ~ where work remains at a virtual standstill ~ but also the beginnings of a bureaucratic cover-up that continues even on Minister for Railway Km. Mamata Banerjee's watch.
By June 2008, six years after the project to link the Kashmir Valley by rail to the rest of the country was fast-tracked and a year after it was supposed to be completed, the 120 KM stretch had only seen 10 per cent progress amidst widespread fiascoes ~ collapsing tunnels and portals, escalating expenditure and contractor claims ballooning to over Rs. 1,200 crore. The root of the problem lay in the engineering plan itself. For six years, top officials, eager to award contracts, had ignored warnings, rushed into a hit-and-miss construction plan along the crucial stretch without relevant geo-technical data, and prevented scrutiny of the ensuing disaster by presenting a false picture of progress.

By 2008, however, a chief engineer of the project, Mr. A K Verma, had not only blown the whistle but also presented the Railway Board with an alternative alignment plan that laid bare the engineering blunder and forced the Member Engineering, Mr. S K Vij, to suspend work and order a review. The alternative solution sought to substantially reduce not only costs by thousands of crore rupees but also the length from 126 to 68 km, the number of bridges from 94 to seven and tunnels from 64 to eight. This was to be achieved by avoiding a serpentine route and, instead, tunnelling straight through the centre of the mountains at a sharper gradient to safeguard against landslides and reduce contact along seismic fault-lines.
The recordings of the brainstorming session show several jittery bureaucrats who were involved in the bungled plan since its inception banding together to prevent its abandonment in favour of the chief engineer's scheme. During the session, Mr. R R Jaruhar, who had, with Mr. Rakesh Chopra, held key posts overseeing the six-year fiasco, expressed fears of being put behind bars if costs were compared and stated that the Prime Minister had been heard saying that if the Railways could build a railway line in Kashmir they could do anything. "Do you want to go back and tell him that, Sir, we have made a serious mistake? Can you afford to say this...?" asked Mr. Jaruhar.
The admissions of Mr. Ankush Krishan and Mr. Anurag Mishra, the managing directors of IRCON and KRCL respectively, the two PSUs incharge of construction, show the nature of the "mistake" ~ contracts were signed and construction rushed into in 2003 without basic investigations, survey maps, contour sheets or aerial satellite maps, by "betting" on the geology and topography and making "adjustments" on the ground. Rather than allow for the examination of the chief engineer's solution and admit the fiasco, the consensus of the brainstorming session submitted to the Railway Board by Mr. SriPrakash was that the original plan should not be abandoned.
"The Railways has always operated from a position of strength. This would be the first time when we will be announcing to the whole world that we were totally wrong. I do not think we can do that...!" said Mr. Anurag Mishra, managing director of Konkan Railways Corporation Limited.
The cover-up has only gathered steam since. Chief engineer Mr. A K Verma, who was kept away from the brainstorming session by his general manager Mr. Shriprakash, was soon handed transfer orders. His proposal was never examined by the expert committee set up to do so. The original alignment has been maintained, despite even the compromised expert committee finding 75 per cent of it worthy of being scrapped, and Mr. E Sreedharan, Chief of Delhi Metro warning that costs would escalate four to five times, that the resultant alignment would be unstable, and the high bridges would be a security threat.
The latest Northern Railway's monthly report shows that progress along the 120 km is negligible; even the stability of the slopes alongside the planned Anji and Chenab bridges have not yet been determined.
However, current chief administrative officer of the project Mr. R K Gupta has, stated that construction is in "full swing" and that Northern Railway is confident of meeting its 2017 completion-date target. His optimism is well in line with that exhibited by earlier project officials who kept promising the government that construction would be complete by 15 August 2007 even as failure and infructuous expenditure continued on the ground.

This article about the Train in Kashmir. Thanks to Railway Samaachaar. with courtesy to that blog I am sharing that article here.
Mother Link: http://paripurnarailwaysamachar.blogspot.com/2011/02/kashmir-rail-link-bureaucratic-disaster.html

1 comment:

  1. 01/9/13

    Mr Pundit:

    I've been following the construction progress with great interest via Google Earth. The progress that can be seen on the latest satellite photos is quite amazing. Tunneling is going on north of Katra and between Sangaldan and Banihal. Construction on the Chenab Bridge is moving ahead. It's very impressive. And it looks as if trains well be operating from Baramullah all the way to Banihal Station through the 11 km tunnel by this summer. It's terribly expensive, of course, but it's needed to tie the Valley of Kashmir to the rest of India. The construction never will be any cheaper. The Indian Railways have made astounding progress since I first rode them back in 1964. I recall spending 34 hours on the Janta Express going from Delhi Junction to Patna behind steam locomotives. I hope the Kashmir project will continue and that India will be very proud of her achievement there.

    Best wishes,
    William J Graham
    Burnsville, Minnesota, U.S.A.