| Work in progress at tunnel 10 near New Haflong railway station |
Haflong, March 18: The railways, having grappled with militancy in Dima Hasao for years while executing projects, now has a new thorn on its side — theft of rails and track fittings.
According to Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) sources, the much delayed gauge conversion of the 170km Lumding-Badarpur section has again run into bad weather following four instances of theft involving rails and track fittings worth crores of rupees between July last year and January this year.
There are apprehensions that if such incidents are not stopped immediately, the project, which has already had many time and cost overruns, may not make the March 2015 deadline and get deferred again. “Theft of rails and track fittings is a matter of great concern as this affects the progress of track linking work. This could further delay opening of the broad gauge section for train movement,” NFR chief engineer Ajit Pandit said.
Giving details of the thefts, Pandit said on July 11 last year, goons made off with 47 metres of rails from a section between Manderdisa and Hathikhali stations, followed by theft of 611 metres of rails near Dijaobra station and then 980 metres between Lumding, Manderdisa and Langting stations on July 19 last year. “On January 4 this year, 1,248 metres of rails was stolen near Hathikhali station,” the chief engineer said.
He said the thieves had used gas cutters to cut the rails in every theft and added that they had taken up the matter with the Dima Hasao police.
Pandit said such incidents caused heavy losses to the exchequer, as each km of rails cost around Rs 10 crore. “These rails are very expensive because the steel used contains high quantity of carbon,” he said.
The chief engineer suspects that an organised gang must be involved, as it isn’t possible for one or two persons to commit such crimes. “It will require several persons to lift a piece of rail, which weighs several tonnes,” he said.
The foundation stone of the project was laid way back in 1996 and since then, the railways have missed several deadlines. The initial estimated cost of the project was Rs 648 crore, which has now gone up to Rs 4,255 crore and may cross the Rs 5,000-crore mark by the time it is completed.
Explaining the reasons for the deadline being pushed back again and again, Pandit said in the initial eight years (till 2004), there was not much funds flow as only Rs 339 crore was released. Following that, between 2006 and 2009, the project was badly hit by militancy in Dima Hasao district. “During the period, 70 workers engaged in the project were killed by militants and 10 others abducted,” Pandit said, adding the work had gained momentum only after 2009, when the militant groups entered into ceasefire with the government.
He said the NF Railway was yet to get forest clearance on certain stretches of the project, which could cause further delay.
The chief engineer said another problem faced by them was construction of the 3,235-metre tunnel number 10 near Haflong. He said since the quality of the soil in that area was soft, they had to face difficulties in constructing the tunnel.
“The tunnel was deformed in a 370-metre stretch and the ensuing rectification work caused disruption of work for almost six months.”
Pandit said the tunnelling work had now been expedited and the tunnel was likely to be completed by December 2014.