Mangalore, July 23, 2013: The long pending demand for a separate Mangalore Division of the Railways can soon be a reality should our own people at the helm in the Union Cabinet make an earnest attempt. The demand has gained momentum since Mallikarjuna Kharge from Karnataka has been allotted the Railways portfolio. Our own Oscar Fernandes, Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways and M Veerappa Moily, the Union Petroleum Minister who have enormous clout in the UPA government can accelerate the process. Kharge’s assurance hints at the fructification of the demand in near future.
The proposed Division will have the Konkan railway network too. Now the railway network between Thokur near Mangalore and Roha in Maharashtra comes under the Konkan Railway Corporation (KRC) while the stretch between Ullal bridge and Thokur comes under the Palghat Division of the Southern Railway.
It may be noted that the Konkan Railway has been incurring losses, as the profit-generating stretch between Ullal bridge and Thokur doesn’t come under it. The subsidiary Konkan Railway cannot even be merged with the Indian Railways because as per the agreement KRC can be merged with the parent body once it clears all its loans. The KRC is running in loss to the tune of Rs 3,580 crore, besides the project taken up by it at Jammu-Kashmir is also a failure. With such huge liability, the Indian Railways absorbing it is a distant dream.
The ambitious Konkan railway network, which came as a boon to the people of the coastal area, has to be pulled out of this financial mess. The only viable option for this is creating a separate Mangalore Division incorporating the railway network from the point where it touches Karnataka at Ullal bridge up to Pernem in Goa. From Pernem onwards till Roha, it should come under separate division of Ratnagiri.
The proposed Mangalore Division can have a part of the Konkan Railways network in addition to the revenue-generating Mangalore Central Station and New Mangalore Port Trust route. Currently, the Rs 400 crore earned through Mangalore Central Station and NMPT goes to Palghat Division. The small stretch of Palghat Division in Karnataka is contributing substantially for the development of Kerala region. Even the elected representatives of the State do not have much say in Palghat Division.
As the headquarters of the KRC at Belapur is much away from the Konkan route, it is losing a substantial amount on rent. Hence it is planned to shift the headquarters to Madgaon where KRC owns large chunks of land. If it happens, the headquarters comes under the proposed Mangalore Division. Subsequently the route up to Diva can be merged with another proposed division of Ratnagiri and this would help generate income for the KRC.
Woes of KRC
The Konkan Railway, the brain child of the visionary George Fernandes, is being meted out step-motherly treatment from the beginning itself. There was a proposal to include Mangalore Central Railway Station with KRC. Hence the KRC laid the track from Mangalore Central to Mangalore Junction at a cost of Rs 12.2 crore. But the Keralite lobby worked against this, as they did not want to lose the goose that lays the golden egg. Founder chairman of the KRC E Shridharan had sent a proposal to merge Mangalore Central and NMPT route with KRC. However, bowing to the Keralite lobby, the Railway Board merged these two revenue-generating spots with the Southern Railway and fixed the Konkan route from Thokur in Mangalore.
The non-Konkan trains get preferential treatment at Mangalore Central Station and this is one of the reasons for Konkan trains frequently running late. If the Mangalore Central Station is merged with the KRC, such hassles can be done away with.
Too many players for a small pie
The Railway network in Mangalore is torn between many players. The 12-km stretch between Talapadi and Mangalore Central, the 11-km stretch from Talapadi to Mangalore Junction, the six-kilometre stretch from Mangalore Central to Mangalore Junction Stations and the 19-km stretch between Mangalore Junction and Panambur Yard come under the Southern Railway, northwards from Thokur belongs to the Konkan Railway, eastwards from Padil on the Bangalore-Mangalore route is part of the South-Western Railway and western side belongs to the Southern Railway. Though South-Western Railway had constructed the Padil Station, it was handed over to the Southern Railways to do away with the administrative hassles.
Thus the railway network at a radial distance of just 20 kilometres is torn between three authorities, the majority being with the Southern Railway. Hence people have to turn to the Palghat Division for any developmental work despite sufficient revenue generated in the region.
A much awaited dream
The demand for a separate division is about three-decade old. Even before commissioning of the Konkan Railway, there was a demand to form Mangalore Division with Mangalore as headquarters covering route from Kannur in Kerala up to Mangalore. However, even if the demand was implemented, it would not have benefitted the region any way as only 30 km stretch lies in the State and the rest in Kerala. But the current proposal of merging Konkan Railway with Mangalore Division appears logical.
The Konkan railway network which is exploited optimally cannot run any additional trains. Laying the second track is a distant possibility for the cash-strapped KRC. The revenue from passengers is nominal while goods and Ro-Ro services are earning a marginal profit. But if the KRC is strengthened financially by forming a separate division many developmental works such as doubling of tracks, upgrading stations etc. can be carried out.
MPs should make concerted efforts
The elected representatives of the region should press the Railway Minister to materialise the long-cherished demand of the people.
K Jayaprakash Hegde, Lok Sabha member from Udupi-Chikmagalur Constituency says “I have already submitted a memorandum to the honorable Railway Minister Mallikarjuna Kharge regarding formation of Mangalore Division by merging Konkan Railway. He has told he too was thinking along the same lines.” Hegde adds that he has broached the issue with Oscar Fernandes and will continue his effort in Delhi.
“Mangalore Division should be formed by merging Konkan Railway route in the State as the present Palghat Division is not doing justice to this part of the land”, opines Nalin Kumar Kateel, MP. While welcoming the statement of Mallikarjuna Kharge he says, “I will fight for the cause by joining hands with other organizations.”
With the right people at the right place, perhaps such an opportune time for creation of Mangalore Division may not arise in near future. Different organizations fighting for the cause too should speak in unison. So it’s now or never.n