Arun Kumar Das
Failing several times to meet its deadlines, Indian Railways has yet again set a new target of April 2020 for commissioning of the 3,342-km Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC) along its trunk routes.
Moving at a snail's pace, the ambitious Rs 814 billion project had got the Union Cabinet's green signal way back in 2006 and since then it has not been able to meet completion schedules so far due to various reasons, including procedural wrangles, land acquisition, environment clearances and other related issues.
The project, comprising the Eastern and Western corridors, aims to speed up the movement of freight while easing the congested routes for passenger traffic.
The targeted completion of the project was 2016-17, shifted to the year-end of 2017-18 and now has finally been set at April 2020.
Admitting to delays because of many issues, a senior Railway Ministry official involved with the project said: "Both the corridors are to be commissioned by April 2020 as most of the problems are now being resolved."
According to a CAG report in 2014, "the delay in completing the project was mainly due to lack of proper planning and implementation" which has resulted in cost escalation from Rs 281.81 billion in 2008 to Rs 814.59 billion.
According to CAG estimates, there was a Rs 44.52 billion increase in the land cost by 2014 itself.
However, the official said: "Now the land acquisition is almost complete and significant contracts related to civil and electrical works and signalling have been awarded, resulting in the works being speeded up."
The project is crucial for Indian Railways as it faces a stiff competition from the road sector for goods movement. The shifting of goods from roads to rail will also save precious fossil fuel which will be a boon for the environment.
Since the progress of the project is now being closely monitored by the Prime Minister's Office, the Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India Limited (DFCCIL) has finalised a series of target dates for partial commissioning of the corridors in limited sections.
For the Western DFC, the target of commissioning the Rewari-Marwar section (432 km) is February 2019, the Marwar-Palanpur section (207 km) is September 2019 and the Palanpur-Makarpur section (308 km), the Makarpura-Vaitran section (313 km) and the Rewari-Dadri section (127 km) is March 2020.
For the Eastern DFC, the new targets are Khujra-Bhaupur section (343 km) by November 2018, the Bhaupur-Mughalsarai section (402 km) by August 2019, the Sonnagar-Mughalsarai section (126 km) by October 2019, the Khurja-Dadri section (46 km) by December 2019 and the Pilkhani-Sahnewal section (179 km) March 2020.
The 1,840km Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor from Ludhiana to Dankuni near Kolkata traverses Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal.
The 1,502 km Western Dedicated Freight Corridor from Dadri (Uttar Pradesh) to Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (Navi Mumbai) passes through Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra.
The corridors are expected to greatly contribute towards the economic development of the states they traverse as well as help ease the traffic load on the existing Indian Railways network.
"Steps are being taken to make operational part of the Western corridor and a part of the Eastern corridor by November this year," the official said.
(Arun Kumar Das is a senior Delhi-based freelance journalist. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)