Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee wrote to Union Railways Minister Piyush Goyal last week complaining about the delay in starting work on the Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor (EDFC). She said that even though the state government had acquired "most of the land" required for the ambitious project, the railways was yet to start work on the project.
But, as has been the case quite often, the Bengal Chief Minister was being economical with the truth. The state government has acquired only 70 per cent of the 307 hectares of land required for the project and has handed over only 60 per cent of that acquired land to the railways. A senior Eastern Railway (ER) officer said that as per norms, at least 80 per cent of the land required for a project has to be handed over to the railways before the latter starts work on a project.
Moreover, the Bengal government has handed out only Rs 270 crore of the total amount of Rs 580 crore due to the land-losers. The ER officer said that if the entire amount of compensation is not handed over, the land-losers would put up resistance once work commences. Thus, it is necessary that the entire compensation due to land-losers is disbursed before railways commences work on a project.
The Bengal Chief Minister is also opposed to the eastern leg of the freight corridor being executed in the PPP model. She has argued that over the last few years, there have been no large private investments in public infrastructure projects. Hence, this vital World Bank-backed project may also fail to get private investments. Banerjee wants public funding for the EDFC.
Banerjee, during her stint as railway minister, had inaugurated the EDFC in November 2010. The 1,192 km freight corridor stretches from Ludhiana to Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyay Junction (earlier known as Mughalsarai junction) from where one leg is to travel another 126 km to Sonnagar in Bihar. From Bihar it is to travel 203 km to Dankuni in Bengal.
Speaking at the EDFC inaugural ceremony at Dankuni in November 2010, Banerjee had said that the town would transform into an automobile manufacturing hub providing employment to lakhs of people. Ironically, Dankuni is just 50 kms away from Singur from where Tata Motors had to shift its automobile plant just two years before that due to protracted agitation by the Trinamool Congress.
The EDFC was conceived in 2005, but various delays escalated the cost by more than 100 per cent to Rs 76,783 crore when Banerjee inaugurated it in 2010. One of the main reasons for that delay was Banerjee's directive to the Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation Limited to go back to the drawing board and realign the tracks to avoid acquisition of farmlands.
At that time, she was virulently opposed to acquisition of farmlands for industries or infrastructure projects. However, since 2011 when she came to power in Bengal, the state government has often acquired farmlands for many public projects.