MoD sounds alarm as Rlys fails to build 14 vital links

The Defence Ministry has rung alarm bells over a fund-strapped Railways failing to build 14 vital links that would have connected the strategically important northern and western border outposts. This could hamper deployment of armed forces and supplies to these posts, the MoD said at a high-level meeting on October 3.

At the meeting chaired by Alok Rawat, Secretary, Coordination, in the Cabinet Secretariat, Additional Secretary in the Defence Ministry Shankar Aggarwal said the 14 links —falling in J&K, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and the Northeast — had been identified by the armed forces, but that the Railways had neither ensured funding for these sections nor had the Finance Ministry committed any resources for the projects to be executed.

Aggarwal also said that so far, the government has been funding the operations of only six strategic railway lines, which were identified back in the '50s and '60s. No other "strategic" project had been taken up, he added.

Railway Board Additional Member (Works) A K Gupta told the meeting that of the 14 projects, discussions on five had been held with the Planning Commission in May 2011 and these had been "prioritised". One project — the Mukongselek-Passighat line (30-km-long, entailing a cost of Rs 165.85 crore) — had even been accounted for in the Railway Budget 2011-12, he said.

However, as an official who attended the meeting pointed out, "The discussions revealed that no funding arrangements had been agreed upon for the remaining projects." The Finance Ministry's Expenditure Department Joint Secretary, Saurav Garg, also admitted that apart from funding of operations of six strategic projects, no decision had been taken to extend support to any other strategic railway line. The Railways was finally asked to provide the current status of the 14 projects.

A source in the Railways said while the MoD had earlier too raised the issue of these "strategic" lines, the state behemoth is "cash-strapped" and struggling to execute projects.

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