Railways are finally gearing up to clear all slums and such encroachment along the tracks in Delhi. An estimated 250 acres — or a little less than three Lodhi Gardens — of land are enlisted as encroached.
With Mamata Banerjee gone from the helm of affairs at the Railway Ministry, officials are aiming to touch this subject, always considered politically sensitive hence out of bounds. As rail minister, Banerjee had, on plenty of occasions, been vocal about not wanting to disturb slum dwellers on railway lands, although nothing was ever communicated officially.
The Railway Board has convened a high level meeting on Monday to discuss this following an inquiry report on a minor derailment in Okhla (a yard's train went off the track) cited wanton encroachment as a serious safety concern in Delhi.
An estimated 27,000 illegal dwellings stand on railway lands in Delhi along tracks and a third of them are in "safety zone"- within 15 meters of the tracks. Tracks along Patel Nagar, Sabzi Mandi, Nizamuddin, Tughlakabad, Okhla, Tilak Bridge and Delhi Cantonment are some of the major sections.
"Such is the intensity of the encroachment that railway staff cannot carry out maintenance of the tracks because people have turned the tracks into their toilets. In many areas the tracks are barely visible," said a senior railway official, who did not wish to be named.
What is most dangerous is that the lack of maintenance coupled with continued defecation on tracks corrodes the soil and leads to rail fracture, making running trains a perilous task.
For instance, girders of a bridge along Barapullah Nallah near Nizamuddin station have corroded prematurely within seven years of commissioning and its replacement cost estimated to R6 crore. Officials said the Delhi Division is full of such examples.
In sections like Tughlakabad-Palwal, where trains run at 150 km per hour, standard maintenance of tracks to suit such speed is impossible, thanks to encroachment.
About eight years ago the railways had paid the Municipal Corporation of Delhi Rs 11.25 crore to rehabilitate 4,359 slums, but the railways are not happy with the progress of the work. The MCD, meanwhile, stopped having a slums department altogether since the subject went to the jurisdiction of Slum Board of the Delhi government.
Internal reports have also cited slums as breeding grounds for ragpickers and criminals. "There is a proposal to erect a high boundary wall along railway land to secure them in the future," the official said.