Hajipur, Oct. 1: Bulldozing its way through loud protests, the East-Central Railway zone was formally created today in a subdued ceremony presided over by railway minister Nitish Kumar.
At 5 pm, when the railway minister reached here to formalise a “milestone in the history of Bihar and Indian Railways”, he was surrounded by a handful of railway officers and 100-odd local party supporters. No other minister from the Centre or the state was present.
Eastern Railway general manager S.C. Sengupta handed over records of Dhanbad and Mughal Sarai divisions to his counterpart in the East-Central zone, S.C. Gupta. The records of Samastipur and Sone divisions, earlier under Northeastern Railway, were also handed over.
“A formality which was long pending has now been completed and the zone is a reality despite howls of protests. The East-Central zone is all set to be a model zone. It would work on state-of-the-art technology,” said Kumar.
The Rajdhani Express derailment which killed over 100 people, cast its shadow over the inaugural programme that was to have otherwise been a mega event.
“The mood of the employees here is one of hurt, recrimination and bitterness. Our morale has been hit,” said general manager Gupta. “However, we have accepted the challenge and we will come up to it.”
The new zone is counting on the Dhanbad and Mughal Sarai divisions for revenue.
Dhanbad alone loaded 2 million tonnes of coal during the lean season. The division’s revenue is estimated to be over Rs 2,976 crore.
The new zone has taken up 480 projects worth over Rs 600 crore. “I have weathered all kinds of criticism and allegations levelled against me on the new zone,” Kumar said, adding that this became more vicious in the wake of the Rajdhani derailment.
“I did not want to come to Hajipur to inaugurate the programme since we are now in a mournful mood. It was on the request of the senior officers that I agreed to visit,” he said.
The railway minister said: “We would wait for some time for the final report of the mishap but we are hurt and our moral fibre is shaken.” He added that the ministry was going in for a “purposeful, meaningful inspection of the safety systems”.
He said the railway ministry had abided by the Khanna Committee report to set aside a Rs 1,700-crore safety fund. “There is no dearth of funds from the ministry, the infrastructure of the railways has been modernised, a microprocessor-backed device to avert collision of trains is underway but I now want results. Please give us that now,” he demanded from the railway officers. The employees present did not respond.
In Calcutta, Trinamul Congress workers staged black-flag demonstrations at different railway stations as well as the Eastern Railway headquarters at Fairlie Place to protest against the bifurcation.
The party observed the day as “dhikkar diwas” and condemned Kumar’s attempts to “cripple Bengal’s economy in order to consolidate his political base in Bihar.”
Thousands of Trinamul supporters, led by general secretary Madan Mitra, marched into the Eastern Railway head office.