HC Concern Over Faulty Rail Link
18 May 2015
: Delhi High Court today expressed concern over the alleged faulty Katra-Banihal rail link to the Kashmir valley, saying it was worried about the safety of citizens if a major Nepal-like quake happened and asked the Government to take a call on it. It also warned the Government that if it wanted to 'gamble' with the lives of people, then it cannot be helped. A bench of Justices B D Ahmed and Sanjeev Sachdeva observed that even though an expert committee headed by ex-DMRC chief E Sreedharan had raised serious concern over the existing alignment of this section, why was the Railway Board not thinking about it. 'The only thing that is worrying us is the safety of the citizens, as it (Katra-Banihal section) can cause a disaster. In the wake of the recent event which took place in Nepal, the Government should be more serious about it. 'It (the section) is unsafe. If you (Government and the Railway Board) want to gamble with the life of the people then we cannot help you,' the court said, adding the Government should 'take a call on it'. The court was hearing a petition filed by advocate Prashant Bhushan alleging that the current alignment of the Katra-Banihal rail link had 'serious safety problems' and the Railway Board constituted by the Railway Ministry had rejected the expert panel's suggestions, including having an alternate alignment. Taking note of the issues raised in the petition, the court also issued notice to the Railway Board and the Railway Ministry asking them to file their response within four weeks. The court fixed the matter for further hearing on July 22. NGO Centre For Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) had claimed that the 'eminent experts including ex-DMRC chief E Sreedharan, senior railway officials and a high-level expert committee had raised serious concerns over the current alignment which most say overlooked the basic human needs of safety, security and comfort while travelling, and makes the entire project unworkable.' Bhushan alleged that this was 'ignored to get political mileage' out of the announcement of the new line. To this, the court said 'earlier there was some other Prime Minister now there is someone else Why waste good money behind the bad one.' The petition claimed there was strong support for an alternate alignment which was 'safe, less costly and will considerably reduce route length (and thereby travel time), will improve stability, reduce maintenance cost and time and make relief operations easier'. Bhushan also said 'the alternate alignment is totally in consonance with international experience and practice of undertaking railway projects in hilly regions'. The biggest concern for the expert committee was the proposed bridge on river Chenab and was the major reason for the delay in the implementation of the project, it said. Flagging its concern, the committee in its report had said, 'All members of this Committee have serious reservations on the safety and stability of this bridge. On this score alone we are unable to endorse the present contour alignment with 1 in 80 grade which has necessitated this enormous Arch Bridge albeit this being a signature bridge.' However, the committee had favoured the alternative alignment prepared by chief engineer Alok Verma, the report, appended with the petition, said. The project, which was announced during the tenure of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2002, was supposed to be completed in 2007 but due to alleged faulty layout not conducive with the difficult terrain of the region, was still far from completion, the petition said. The expert committees have cited several reasons highlighting the 359-metre high bridge's 'inadequate' safety factor. The committee had remarked that in case of any damage to the bridge, restoration will take a minimum of five to six years which would seriously disrupt communication link in the region. Favouring the alternative alignment prepared by the Chief Engineer, the committee had observed, 'cutting across mountain ranges and folds at right angles or near right angles and tucked deep into the mountains away from dangerous slopes is the right solution'. Verma had advocated the new type of alternative alignment which he claimed was economical, safe and based on latest technology adopted by China and other countries. Following the Delhi High Court order instructing Railway Board to set up a new committee of experts to examine relative merits and demerits of the existing and the alternative alignment, the committee under Sreedharan was constituted which had submitted its report on February 4.