A Project And A Pledge, Neither Quite On Track21 February 2011
The Indian Express
New Delhi: The ambitious railway line that will allow direct access to the Kashmir Valley from anywhere in the country has just got costlier. The Railway Ministry has now estimated that the total cost of the 273-km Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla (USB) national project would now touch Rs. 19,575 crore. Originally estimated at Rs. 3,000 crore, it was last pegged at Rs. 11,000 crore till the Expanded Board for Railways cleared the latest revision, nearly twice the last estimate and over six times the previous one. A key stretch where construction has struggled for eight years is the 148 kilometres between Katra and Qazigund. This stretch alone would account for as much as Rs. 14,800 crore, latest Rail Bhavan estimates suggest. An announcement is likely in the forthcoming Rail Budget. In a recent meeting of the Expanded Board for Railways (which includes representatives from the Railways Ministry, the Finance Ministry, the Planning Commission and the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation), the Railway Ministry admitted the initial alignment and cost estimates had been based on a study “without filed verification and was not realistic”. “Revised cost is assessed as Rs. 19,575 crore as per 2009-10 price levels,” the Ministry’s executive director (works) told the meeting. For the escalation of the cost of the Katra-Qazigund section from Rs. 2,100 crore to Rs. 14,800 crore, the Railways has given four reasons. First, it has had to earmark Rs. 957 crore for access roads. “The area is virgin without a road network. Roads are required to be constructed for reaching tunnel-bridge locations. In fact, the length of the access road being constructed is more than twice that of the railway line.” Second, Rail Bhavan has said, IRCON and Konkan Railway Corporation are executing work on a “cost plus 10% basis”, affecting costs. Third, the Railways has said, a significant part of the upward revision is due to the need for setting up security infrastructure in view of the fact that the line passes through a terrorist-affected area. “Large areas for security posts, barracks, quarters and equipment are required and have been incorporated in the revised cost estimate,” the Railways has stated. The fourth reason cited is the incorporation of a provision for Rs. 301 crore for electrification of the line, something that was not envisaged at the DPR stage. The 119-km Qazigund-Baramulla section is in operation. However, this standalone line is not connected to the rest of the Indian Railways network because of the delay in Katra-Qazigund. Work on this section, sanctioned in 2002, began late that year and was targeted for completion in 2007. The Railways has now set itself a 2017 deadline.