The demand for a railway factory in Kalahandi was initiated and coined in 2007-08 to bring public sector manufacturing unit to this backward and catalyze development activities in this backward region. Many letters and memorandum started following since then to railway minister Mr. Lalu Prasad Yadav and prime minister Dr. Manmohan Singh.
In the 2009 election, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government was reelected in India, and the Kalahandi region elected an Indian National Congress (INC) Member of Parliament (MP). Hearing the appeal, in the railway budget 2010-11 railway minister Ms. Mamata Banerjee in Feb 2010 proposed one of the railway Wagon Factories in Bhubaneswar or Kalahandi.
After the declaration of a Wagon factory in Bhubaneswar/Kalahandi by railway minister, Mr. Naveen Patnaik, Chief Minister of Odisha wrote a letter to the Minister of Railway on 18-03-2010 with D.O.No. UM-6/2010-116-CM to set up the proposed railway wagon factory in Chhatrapur of Ganjam district instead of Bhubaneswar/Kalahandi without any survey for suitable land in Kalahandi. This met strong opposition from the people of Kalahandi and many protest letters were submitted to the Government of India and Ministry of Railway.
On Nov 16, 2010, railway minister Smt Benerjee mentioned in West Bengal that “We will set up 20 more heavy industries like wagon factories in underdeveloped areas of the country like Kalahandi in Orrisa, in Telangana (in Andhra Pradesh) and Junglemahal (Maoists affected area)” while addressing a function to commence the work for the Dedicated Eastern freight Corridor at Dankuni.
After the statement made by the railway minister in West Bengal, Mr. Patnaik, Chief Minister of Odisha wrote another letter to the Minister of Railway on 29-12-2010 with D.O.No. UM-6/2010-483-CM to set up the railway factory in Ganjam district explaining that this particular land is suitable and no suitable land is available in Kalahandi for wagon factory.
After receiving the letter dated 29-12-2010 by Mr. Patnaik, on 25.01.2011 railway minister wrote back to the chief minister of Orissa with letter no. 2010/M(W)/964/53 that the proposed site in Ganjam would make the project financially unviable.
These exchanges of letters brought evidence of political foul playing by the Odisha Government against the interest of Kalahandi. Subsequently, the decision by Odisha Government and letters by the chief minister to the railway ministry resulted in strong public and intellectual protest in the Kalahandi region which included various political and social outrages.
This was also raised by then Kalahandi MP, Sri Bhakta Charan Das. On March 4, 2011, railway minister, Ms. Banerjee even had to intervene on the floor of parliament and promised in the parliament for another railway wagon factory in Odisha, especially for Kalahandi, if the land is supplied by the state Govt.
Afterward, immediately the Chief Minister of Odisha wrote back on 25.3.2011 with D.O. No. UM-6/11-51/CM to the railway minister to establish the Wagon factory in Sitapali, a new location in the Ganjam district. Despite the railway ministry’s inclination towards Kalahandi, the proposed Wagon factory in Odisha finally went to the Ganjam district due to the strong lobby by Odisha Government and internal state politics.
Thankfully the demand for a railway factory in Kalahandi continued at the local level and in the parliament. Irrespective of political affiliations, people in Kalahandi wholeheartedly supported the demand. Kalahandi MP continued to raise in the parliament the issue.
In one of the parliament sessions in 2012, Sri Pranab Mukherjee, then finance minister took the issue to the railway minister to establish a Wagon factory in Kalahandi. Smt Sonia Gandhi also took it to the railway minister to establish the same in Kalahandi and promised to Kalahandi MP Sri Das that such an establishment will be made soon in Kalahandi.
Thus, the railway minister in the 2013-14 rail budget announced a Wagon Maintenance Workshop in Kalahandi. With the local people’s support this time Odisha Government gave its approval as the election was nearing.
However, due to the election, not much progress was made except announcing the project. Further, in the 2014 general election, UPA Government lost the general election and National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by Sri Narendra Modi won the general election. Kalahandi also elected its MP as well as all its MLA from Biju Janata Dal (BJD), the ruling party in Odisha, which helped to woo the state Government.
Initial 2 years of NDA Government led by Sri Modi, the proposed Wagon Maintenance Workshop in Kalahandi went to cold storage. Subsequently, in 2016 it was found that the railway ministry shifted Wagon Maintenance Workshop from Kalahandi to Visakhapatnam citing a feasibility study.
This met again protest by locals and intellectuals. With elected MP and all MLAs from the ruling BJD in the Kalahandi region, Odisha Government realized strong public sentiment in the region for which it was under pressure. In 2017 railway ministry along with Odisha Government agreed together and sanctioned that the railway will set up an Electric Loco Periodical Overhauling Workshop, a maintenance workshop for electric engines in Kalahandi. The budget was estimated at 186 crores.
Although many projects approved by railway in other parts of the country has moved since 2010, the work of the proposed low budget Electric Loco Periodical Overhauling Workshop in Kalahandi has not yet started. Surprisingly, the first year only 1 lakh was allocated and the last two years just 1 crore was allocated in the railway budget, much of which was unspent.
Ministry of railway cites the delay of the project and low budget approval for past 3 and half years is due to state Government which has not yet transferred all the required amount of land in Narla, Kalahandi to the railway. On the other hand, the state Government blames procedural delay and lack of seriousness by the ministry of the railway.
A genuine demand which was initiated by the people and intellectuals of Kalahandi was caught in political mud slogging since 2010. The interest of backward regions like Kalahandi has the greater aspiration to be at par with other parts of the region. Along with agriculture, industrial and manufacturing sector development in the region is crucial for the overall growth of this part of the nation.
The backward tag associated with Kalahandi is obstructing its developmental progress due to infamous perception; currently, the region is fighting a perception battle for which private players are not taking much interest.
Therefore, public-funded investment is crucial to bring industrial projects to the Kalahandi region. It is the right time for local politicians and all the political parties, especially BJD, BJP, and INC need more enthusiasm to push and speed up the project, otherwise, the project may get irrelevant over the next decade or potentially get shifted to another place in India.
(The views expressed are the writer’s own)
Digambara Patra, M.Phil, PhD
Professor Department of Chemistry
American University of Beirut
( Images from the net )