GUWAHATI, Oct 11 - Even as several Assam-based organisations have over recent years called for formation of a separate railway zone exclusively for the north-eastern region, Indian Railways believes that bifurcation of the Maligaon-headquartered Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) will be detrimental to the zone, both economically as well as logistically.NFR General Manager Chahatey Ram told The Assam Tribune that a major portion of outward loading from NFR is at present sourced from West Bengal and Bihar.
“Commodities like dolomite, foodgrain and petroleum products loaded in these areas account for almost 5 MT of NFR’s annual loading of 9 MT. A lot of inward goods traffic is also unloaded in West Bengal and Bihar for which apportioned earnings accrue to the zone. Therefore, removing these areas from NFR’s jurisdiction will lead to a huge loss in earnings for the zone. The spread of the zone right from Bihar and West Bengal to the Brahmaputra and Barak valleys and the hills of the North East will always give the zone an advantage in terms of a very diverse basket of commodities going out from and coming into the zone,” Ram said.
NFR zone, constituted as far back as 1958, covers the entire North East as well as parts of Bihar and West Bengal.
In recent years, many organisations in Assam and the North East, including AASU and the Assam Rail Passengers’ Association (ARPA), have started demanding bifurcation of NFR by removing the areas falling in Bihar and West Bengal from it and for formation of a separate railway zone exclusively for the North East.
Former Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, during his third term in office, had also come out in support of such a demand. People in this region have alleged that a chunk of the projects earmarked for NFR are grabbed by Bihar and West Bengal, while the North East is deprived of its rightful share and so they have contended that a separate zone exclusively for the North East is the only solution to address the issue.
Ram said that at present there are many maintenance facilities for locomotives, coaches and wagons, and DEMU trains, which are located in Bihar and West Bengal portions of NFR.
“Handing over these facilities to another zone will result in severe constraint for timely and proper servicing of these assets. The zone has expanded into newer states, but the bulk of traffic in these new areas is not large enough to warrant creation of new maintenance facilities here,” said the NFR GM.
He discounted the notion that the North East has been deprived of its share of funds or that creation of a separate zone for this region would help in addressing infrastructural issues.
“As far as allocation of funds to various sanctioned works is concerned, there is no lump sum allotment of funds to a zonal railway. Funds are allotted work-wise or project-wise by the Railway Board after approval by the Parliament. Hence, the North East will not gain any extra funds even if a new zone is created only for the region,” said the senior Railway official.
Ram added that no formal proposals have been received from any organisation for realignment or bifurcation of the zone.
“No formal proposal has been received,” he said, when asked about the matter, adding that NFR has also not sent any suggestions or proposals to the Railway Board for bifurcation of the zone.
It is noteworthy that former Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu had, during his Guwahati trip in May this year, said that the Centre might look into the issue of bifurcation of NFR. However, Prabhu himself was divested of the Railway portfolio during the last reshuffle of the Union Ministry.