For the first time, no new rail lines will be built without completion of land acquisition to ensure that work does not get stuck midway because of non- availability of land, Railways has said.
Under a new policy, the national transporter has virtually forbidden the issuance of tenders or start of work on any new project without land in hand or a written assurance from the state government guaranteeing land to the railways within a specific time frame.
"The (Railway) Board has decided that issue of tenders or commencement of physical work for new line projects shall be taken up only after completion of the land acquisition," the new policy says.
Currently, only 70 percent of the land needed to be acquired to start a project, which often led to stoppages and delays because of non-availably of land or earmarked land being caught in litigation.
Officials said that the existing policy did not define that the acquired line needed to be linear, so problems arose when projects would start having issues when part work begins and the next section of land was not available.
"This new policy also puts the onus on state governments to ensure that land is made available to the Railways if they want a new railway line. We end up losing on investments if land is not available," said an official.
An official gave the examples of the new line between Tindivanam and Nagari in Andhra Pradesh (179.2 km) sanctioned in 2006, and the 36-km-long route from Morappur to Dharmapuri, sanctioned at a cost of Rs 134 crore which has seen very poor progress primarily because of non-availability of land.
Officials said that there is cost escalation of around 10-15 percent, every year due to such delays.
However, the policy makes certain concessions for the general managers and given them some discretionary powers. The policy says that the GMs may invite tenders if they are reasonably certain of the possibility of the land acquisition in a reasonable time frame.
"A written assurance from the state government in this regard can be considered by the GM.
"Large projects can be divided into phases by GMs, however, after ensuring that each phase on completion yields commercial returns for railways," the policy stated.
This means that the GMs have the discretion of starting a project if a stretch of land is available in a commercially viable section of the entire project so that railway does not lose out on revenue.
The policy also said that projects, where local support or state support is not forthcoming resulting in poor or no progress as well as old projects that have not made any headway to projects that are unlikely to give any tangible benefits to the railways, would need to be continuously reviewed.
The board has said that this new policy shall be followed in case of new projects or old projects where tenders have not yet been finalized.