Home ministry nixes Bhilai plea for rail line in naxal area

Home ministry nixes Bhilai plea for rail line in naxal area

The Bhilai Steel Plant, the first major steel plant set up in the country after Independence, runs the risk of encountering serious trouble in near future, if the Centre is unable to provide adequate security cover to build a rail line for transportation of iron ore from new mines.

At a meeting of the stakeholders, held in the national capital 10 days ago, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) conveyed its inability to provide more than three additional battalions of the paramilitary forces as security cover for the construction of a 95 kilometre-long rail line to transport iron ore from a new mining site to the plant.

Last Thursday, according to Railway Ministry sources, Railway Board Chairman Vinay Mittal wrote a letter to Union Home Secretary R K Singh, once again drawing the Ministry’s attention to the need for more security cover for men and heavy equipment required for laying the proposed rail line   
Apprising the Home Ministry of the grave situation where scared contractors were threatening to pullout from the ongoing construction work on the two-phase, 95 kilometre-long railway tract owing to Maoist threats. 

The track is being laid from the existing captive mine at Dalli Rajhara in Balod district to Rowghat in Kanker district of Chhattisgarh. The area lies in thick forests which are severely affected by Maoist activities. More than a year back, earthmoving equipment and machinery were set ablaze at Keoti by the Maoists and there have been constant threat to men and machinery, Mittal narrated in his letter.

At the recent meeting of the stakeholders in the construction activity – the Home Ministry, the Railway Ministry and the Chhattisgarh government – Home Ministry officials had advised the Rail Vikas Nigam Ltd (RVNL) to set up base camps after every six kilometres of the proposed track laying. The Ministry was of the view that machinery and men should return to their designated base camp in the evening after each day’s work for safety, an attached note to Mittal’s letter states.

However, the note, written by RVNL MD Satish Agnihotri, makes a proposal that is contrary to the Home Ministry’s suggestion. The contractor should be “permitted to work as per the contract provisions, i.e., from sunrise to sunset, without having to bring back heavy machines to the designated base camps, the Agnihotri wrote.

Agnihotri’s reasoning that if the Home Ministry’s proposals were to be accepted for implementation, the private contractors implementing the project would ask for reworking the project cost. Owing to several hurdles faced, the Mittal’s letter states that the contractor for the first phase of the line (Dalli to Keoti) had already withdrawn machinery from the project sites and raised a claim of Rs 37 crore against the RVNL, putting a question mark on the project’s implementation.

The work has been divided in two phases – the first patch (Dalli Rajhara to Keoti) is of 42 km and the reaming (Keoti to Rowghat) of 53 km stretch. The contract for the first phase was given to a private contractor in November 2009 for Rs 92 crore, while the second one went for Rs 131 crore. Put together, the contract is worth Rs 223 crore.

Mittal has requested the home secretary to take up the issue of additional security requirement on a priority basis, particularly in some limited stretches.

Of course, the project has also run into other problems like the requirement of environmental clearances for felling trees along the proposed rail line, which is essential to even move machinery and workers to work sites. The project implementation has also slowed down over land acquisition issues.

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