Finally, the public relation carrot circulated by the Railway authorities for the last one year regarding the completion of the Lumding – Silchar broad gauge conversion project by the end of 2013 seems to have ended. NF Railway’s General Manager Mr. RS Virdi has recently expressed “concerns” about the possibility of gifting the broad gauge line as a new year present to the people of Barak Valley in 2014.
|The picturesque Silchar - Lumding Metre Gauge Corridor, Photo Courtesy: IRFCA|
Indeed, the project, riddled with elephantine problems, seems to have become one mammoth of a challenge for the Indian Railways, for which they do not seem to have any ready solution. For the first decade since the launch of the project in 1996, the railway officials kept citing the law and order situation in NC Hills (now Dima Hasao) as the main impediment towards the slow progress of the conversion work. However, in the last couple of years the situation has improved in the hills after a cease fire agreement between the terror group Dima Halam Daoga (DHD – Black Widow) and the government of Assam.
The progress of work has gained some momentum now but it is still far slower than the desirable requirement. Now the railway authorities and their contractors are showing other reasons for the delay in finishing the project such as inclement weather, unexpected geotechnical hazards, slide prone and loose nature of the Borail hills and so on. But the question is, in this era of high technical and engineering expertise, when railway corridors are being constructed in far more difficult terrains such as Kashmir and Tibet, why these apparently ‘new’ reasons are being brought to light a good 16 years after the beginning of work?
If these unexpected factors are emerging one after another now, there is a huge possibility that the pre construction surveys related to soil condition, presence of gases, weather behaviour etc were not conducted properly.
In the month of May, a nine member delegation of the ‘Silchar – Lumding Boad Gauge Rupayan Sangram Committee’ went on a tour of the under-construction corridor to assess the ground condition. In course of the tour, they found that many areas in Barak Valley which had never faced any issues related to law and order, had also not seen much progress in construction work, which completely defeats the government’s claim that unstable law and order was the main reason for the delay in finishing the project on time.
Mr. Nirmalya Das, a member of this delegation, mentioned in a very well written article that appeared recently in the Bengali daily ‘Samayik Prasanga’ that the all important Barak bridge has still not been completed and very little work has happened in other nearby areas such as Sukritipur and Damcherra. He further said that out of the 17 tunnels on the stretch, only 10 had been completed. Tunnel number 10, on this stretch has been in news in the recent times for its slow progress and the emission of methane gas from the hills, but along with this tunnel, the 7th and 12th tunnels are also major reasons for concern.
On any new railway corridor, trial runs have to carried out for a few months, to check the fitness of the tracks before opening the same for the public. The Commissioner of Railway Safety (CRS) also has to certify the entire corridor before passenger and goods trains start plying. So, when construction work it self is far behind schedule, how will the railway carry out the trials, and open it by the beginning of 2014?
A progress report uploaded on NF Railway’s construction related website, shows that apart from parameters such as land acquisition, station buildings, railway over bridges and to an extent, the minor bridges, work in all other departments is in progress. Out of the superstructures of 83 major bridges, only 58 have been completed. 10,745 Rm of tunnels have to be constructed, out of which only 7,042.45 Rm have been completed. So, if this is the progress of work in 16 years, how can the remaining work be completed in less than another two years?
Mr. Das has also observed in his article that, the quality of sand (mixed with soil) being used for the construction of the tunnels is so poor that we would not even use them for constructing our houses. When the site engineer was questioned by the delegation regarding the same, he claimed that the sand was being ‘rectified’ before use and had already been cleared by the railways.
Huge aspersions have already been raised regarding the quality of work on this stretch. The 201 km long Lumding - Silchar hill section passes through treacherous terrain which neither have good roads, nor very high quality urban settlements. Therefore, it is not very easy for the railway officials to frequently inspect the progress of work. Just imagine, if a contractor compromises on building materials while constructing a bridge near a remote railway station such as Ditakcherra, how would any senior official sitting at Lumding or Maligaon know? But if indeed the quality of work is poor, the people of Barak Valley might have to pay a very heavy price for it in the future.
In our last article on the same topic titled, “Lumding To Silchar: The Story of an Endless Tunnel” uploaded in January, 2011, we had mentioned how the British could conceive, plan, construct and commission the entire stretch in about 20 years more that a hundred years back, when there was no technology and definitely no roads and other infrastructure. Now about a hundred and ten years later, we cannot even convert a metre gauge line into broad gauge in almost the same time frame. Its indeed a colossal shame on our existence as an independent nation and claims as a potential world power!