Protests in Kerala over govt’s move to shift Palakkad railway coach factory to Haryana

This is not the first time that a coach factory promised for Kerala is being shifted out.
Protests in Kerala over govt’s move to shift Palakkad railway coach factory to Haryana
Protests in Kerala over govt’s move to shift Palakkad railway coach factory to Haryana
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People in Kerala’s Palakkad region are not happy; in a case of history repeating itself, the central government has decided to shift the long-awaited ₹550-crore rail coach factory project in Kanjikode of Palakkad, to Sonepat in Haryana. The factory was supposed to provide employment to the locals, and protests have gathered momentum in the district against the move.

This is not the first time that a coach factory promised for Kerala is being shifted out. In the 1980s, the Centre had promised to bring in a factory in the state, but the project was later shifted to Kapurthala in Punjab.

“We are not at all against a coach factory coming up in Haryana, but it cannot be established there by snatching it away from us,” says Palakkad Member of Parliament, MB Rajesh. “If the coach factory is getting established in Haryana by cancelling the Kanjikode project, we will not allow it. It reminds me of how the in the 80s a coach factory offered to Palakkad was shifted to Kapurthala. Kerala will not forgive this again,” the CPI(M) MP adds.

The Kanjikode coach factory was announced in the 2008 railway budget, and five years ago, the Kerala state government had acquired 239 acres of land for the project. In 2012, the then Union Minister for Railways, Dinesh Trivedi, had also laid the foundation stone for the project, and later, a compound wall was built around the acquired land.

But that’s the only construction that has happened on the land so far. The project was allocated Rs 43 crore for land acquisition, and token allocations of Rs 1.6 crore each were made in 2012 and 2013 - but so far, there has been no other movement in the project.

It was announced that this would be a PPP project, and that the railways would put in 26% of the cost, while 74% of the share would be through private partnership. It was also announced that the coach factory would produce metro coaches as well. But while several announcements were made - nothing actually happened.

The Palakkad MP says that they were deceived by the UPA government.

“When no private players turned up, I myself spearheaded talks with Steel Authority of India  (SAIL) and they informed Railways that they were ready to partner with them on the project,” MB Rajesh says.

“Although SAIL is a public sector firm, the Railways could have considered the offer as no private parties turned up. SAIL also submitted a proposal to the Ministry, but the UPA government did not do anything,” he adds.

The MP says that he took up the issue with the current government as well.

“When the BJP government came in, I spoke to the Prime Minister regarding this. He promised to give an instrumentation unit to Palakkad, but did not talk much about the coach factory. SAIL was even ready to take up the project then, and I informed the PM regarding it. But the Union Railway Minister remained quiet,” he says.

The MP also says that some of the senior officers in Railways have told him that there were no demands for new coaches, and that the Rae Bareli coach factory itself is running at a loss.

Meanwhile, the Congress has also been protesting against the move in Palakkad.

Sumesh Achuthan, Vice President of Palakkad District Congress Committee told TNM that any efforts to shift the proposed coach factory project from Kerala will be opposed tooth and nail. “The project can be carried out through public sector participation. It was UPA government which allotted the project to Kerala. Delay in acquiring land by LDF government was also a flaw in this project.”

Sumesh says that they will continue their protest until their demands are met.

Haryana State Industrial and Infrastructure Development Corporation (HSIIDC) Managing Director, Raja Sekhar Vundru, had confirmed that an MoU on the Sonapet coach factory will soon be signed between the Ministry of Railways and HSIIDC.

“As a follow-up to the announcement, the Ministry of Railways was asked to send a formal communication for initiating action in the matter. Following that a proposal has been received from the Railways for setting up the factory. The project is expected to provide stimulus to lot of ancillary units, small and medium enterprises and hence would create a multiplier effect,” he said, as reported by PTI.

Edited by Ragamalika Karthikeyan

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