Funds crunch may not be the only roadblock to modernisation and expansion of the Railways. Encroachment along the tracks in the Delhi division has derailed the northern railways’ development plans, claim officials.
“Projects worth hundreds of crores such as building grade separators, laying new tracks and demarking railway land have been on hold for years,” said a senior railway official.
In the past two years, the number of illegal dwellings on railway land has increased from 27,000 to almost 60,000. More than four lakh people live along the tracks in Delhi, making train operations difficult.
“Around 15,000 dwellings, which house around a lakh people, are just 10-15 metres away from the track. Slum-dwellers also use track for their morning necessities.
Lack of maintenance coupled with continued defaecation on tracks corrodes the soil and leads to rail fracture, which can cause accidents,” the officer added.
Patel Nagar, Subzi Mandi, Nizamuddin, Tughlakabad, Okhla, Tilak Bridge and Delhi Cant are some of the major affected sections. Expansion of Hazrat Nizamuddin, Sarai Rohilla, Daya Basti, Delhi Cant, Old Delhi and New Delhi stations has been on hold for years.
The railways, however, has failed to act. The number of slums near tracks has doubled despite several efforts.
In the past six months, around 1,000 people have been mowed down by trains in the Delhi division, say officials. The Delhi railway division serves Haryana, Punjab, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh across 1,400km with 213 stations.
Railway officials pin the blame of delay on political patronage encroachers seemingly enjoy. But it is believed that the Railways’ lacklustre attitude and go-slow policy are to be equally blamed.
“Some encroachment was removed before the CWG but the dwellers returned soon. We couldn’t crack down on them as there was lack of political will,” said Ashwani Lohani, divisional railway manager.
In Delhi itself, 250 acres of railway land, worth around Rs. 20,000 crore, has been encroached upon. Besides, cases of theft of railway tracks and fish plates have been rising.