If things go according to plans, the NDA government will announce intents to construct a second-High Speed Corridor – to run what is popularly called a bullet train – on the Delhi-Chandigarh route. A factory to manufacture modern train-sets – to operate these trains at a maximum speed of 350 kilometres per hour – is also being planned at Bhopal as part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” initiative. Civil work on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad route will also begin shortly; with the Indian Railways in the process of calling for a tender worth Rs. 50 crores for the construction of a bridge at a location situated on the Surat-Vadodara route.
If the impression gained is that the Union Government’s overdrive on speed trains is associated with the BJP’s “developmental agenda” in the run up to next year’s national general elections; that is only a part of the truth. The other and more immediate provocation is this: The union government is in a damage control mode following recent news reports that – in view of the government’s inability to resolve land acquisition issues with groups of agitating farmers - the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) had threatened to pull out of its commitment to fund India’s inaugural high-speed project connecting Mumbai to Ahmedabad.
Both the National High-Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHRCL) and the Japan government have denied such reports; asserting that the plan was very much on course. But an unanswered question remains this: Are the tussles over land acquisition likely to delay the big-ticket project? Which party – Japan or India – will bear the possible escalation in the project cost?
As of now, there is little clarity on the issue; as the detailed loan agreement to execute the project has not yet been finalised.
End of a legacy
“A fisherman’s son becomes an adept fisherman and a politician’s son a consummate politician”. Pursuing such logic, the Indian Railways – until today – had persisted with the Liberalised Active Retirement Scheme for Guaranteed Employment to Safety Staff (LARGESS). As the scheme had provided, loco pilots and other safety category employees could seek voluntary retirement after having completed 30 years of active service and having attained an age of 55 years; while nominating their sons to replace them.
“The original idea was that the Railways would be able to blood in young talent; while salary outgo would get reduced. But, over the years, with the rail unions succeeded at enabling other category of employees to benefit from the scheme, things had been going haywire”, said a rail employee.
The LARGESS was violative of the Article 14 and 15 of the Indian Constitution; which provides that public employment must be open for all citizens. But a bigger issue is this: Was not the aim of ensuring passenger safety being compromised; with the patronage system being taken as the guiding principle for dispensing jobs. In a late evening circular on Wednesday, the Railway Board scrapped the LARGEES policy. The rail unions, however, have not taken kindly to the development. The All India Railway Men Federation (AIRF) has decided to organise protest demonstrations on October 4 to demand reversal of the decision.
The Gandhi Station
The last one had heard of Garhi Harsaru was in the 80s; when Richard Attenborough had chosen the railway station at this dusty Haryana township to shoot the famous scene of the Mahatma being bundled out of a first-class train compartment by the “white” fellow travellers.
Garhi - a branch line on the Delhi-Rewari route – is in the news once again for quite different reason: A regular train on the 11 kilometre route on the Garhi- Farukhpur route will now be pulled each Sunday by a steam engine. The concept – evidently borrowed from the Railways of other South Asian countries including Thailand – is aimed at promoting heritage without having the passengers dig deeper into their pockets.
Earlier, the EIR21 – known as the twin of the world’s oldest steam engine in running condition – had done a normal commercial run in the Puducherry area. The Garett Loco – the heavy twin engine loco attached to a boiler – is also being planned to be run on a commercial basis. Evidently, an exciting winter awaits rail enthusiasts.