Parvathipuram to Raipur rail line connecting Raipur with Vizianagaram was completed in 1931 by British India which passes through Rayagada, Kalahandi, Balangir, and Nuapada districts of present Odisha. This was the only train connection to many parts of South Western Odisha then.
Subsequently, in the post-independence of India, the Indian railway sanctioned three important rail line projects in the 1960s passing through Odisha keeping the importance of mineral transportation across the nation, those rail lines were Titilagarh-Jharsuguda, Biramitrapur–Kiriburu, and Kothavalasa-Kirandul rail line. During this period other possible surveys were also made. In 1962-63 former MP from Kalahandi, late Maharaja Pratap Keshari Deo had pointed out in the parliament that Mr. Parkers had done a railway line survey from Kesinga to Nabarangpur to join Kothavalasa-Kirandul (KK) line. KK line was completed and opened in1966-67.
However, no progress was made to connect Kalahandi with the KK line despite repeated demand by Sri Deo in the parliament for more than two decades of his tenure as MP of Kalahandi. Over the past decades, the alternative route to connect the KK line with the Raipur-Vizianagaram rail line was needed because Koraput-Kothavalasa is a special category railway route having many tunnels and high-level bridges, the speed is limited, often less than 50 km per h, and the number of wagons can’t exceed 30 during mineral transportations in this route.
The idea is that an alternative route like the Ambaguda-Lanjigarh road/Kesinga railway line would make mineral transportation from Kirandul to Visakhapatnam and Western Odisha faster and easier. Though later on, the Koraput-Rayagada rail line was sanctioned and took years to finally open in 1998-99, this route also suffers similar problems to the KK line. When Kalahandi MP Sri Bhakta Charan Das became minister of state for railway under prime minister Sri Chandra Shekhar in 1991, Lanjigarh road-Junagarh rail line was approved with a possibility to connect Raipur-Vizianagaram rail line with KK line at Ambaguda via Nabarangpur.
Unfortunately, the Chandra Shekhar Government did not last long except for 4 months. The project did not have a budget to start with but was sanctioned with the final approval. 56 km approved Lanjigarh road-Junagarh rail line received a small boost when Sri Kanhu Charan Lenka served as a minister of state for railway who facilitated budgetary approval, though subsequently it moved slowly and took 20 years to get completed till Bhawanipatna in 2011 and till Junagarh in 2014.
As proposed earlier in 1991 by railway, and with the consistent efforts from intellectuals and late Kalahandi MP Sri Bikram Keshari Deo, the railway included a survey for Junagarh-Ambaguda (145 km) and Kantabanji-Khariar-Ambapani-Nabarangpur-Jeypore (220 km) during the year 2008-09. Further with growing demands from intellectuals from Odisha survey for Raipur-Rajim-Gariyabandh-Mainpur-Deobhog-Dharamgarh-Junagarh was included in 2012 and another survey was approved for Junagarh-Jaypore-Malkangiri- Bhadrachalam (390 km). Over the years, at least 3 different surveys for Junagarh to Nabarangpur-Jeypore were conducted. KK line is one of the most profit-making routes of Indian railway, therefore, the Junagarh-Ambaguda portion of this route has great potential. Further Amabguda-Lanjigarh road railway line would make mineral transportation from Kirandul to Visakhapatnam and other parts of Odisha faster and easier.
Nevertheless, for political reasons Odisha Government pressurized the Indian railway to sanction for Jeypore-Nabarangpur and Jeypore-Malakangiri rail lines to provide rail connectivity to the tribal-dominated region and offered free land for these projects, so both the projects were sanctioned by Indian railway. At the same time, the cost estimated for the 145 km Junagarh-Ambaguda railway line via Nabarangpur was Rs 1,586.52 crore in 2016 with an above 14 % rate of return but Odisha Government did not have much enthusiasm for this project.
Interestingly, Nabrangpur-Junagarh rail connection would give a better solution to people of Nabaragpur district as for many practical purposes people in Nabarangpur prefer Junagarh/Kesinga stations to reach out western Odisha and major cities in India to save time instead of traveling via Koraput and Rayagada. There is little justification on why the Odisha Government preferred to share the cost for the loss-making Jeypore-Nabarangpur rail line instead of the profit-making Junagarh-Nabarangpur rail line to provide rail connectivity to Nabarangpur district in a short time!
For infrastructure development across India, the Indian railway offered to have a joint venture with various state Governments including Odisha. In 2016, Odisha Government agreed to be a partner for the new railway line projects and signed an MoU with the Railway Ministry to constitute a Special Purpose Vehicle for implementation of the proposed projects under Odisha Rail Infrastructure Development Limited (ORIDL). ORIDL in the Capital Investment Programme of 2016-17 included Berhampur-Sambalpur (240 Km), Junagarh-Nabarangpur-Ambaguda (179 Km), Barbil-Banspani (18 Km), and Barsuan- Banspani/ Narayangarh (52 Km) rail line projects. Since the Nabarangpur-Jeypore rail line was sanctioned and work is in progress, ORIDL revised the Junagarh-Nabarangpur-Ambaguda rail route survey to Junagarh-Nabarangpur.
However, over the past 4 years, ORIDL’s progress has been slow as neither the Odisha Government nor the Central Government has made any budgetary approval for Junagarh-Nabarangpur under the capital investment program. Logically, as per railway’s initial proposal in 1991 while approving the Lanjigarh road-Junagarh rail line project, work for the rest portion of Lanjigarh road-Ambaguda, which is Junagarh-Ambaguda should have started immediately after the completion of the project till Junagarh in 2014. It is 6 years late now.
On the other hand, the Berhampur-Sambalpur rail line has received approval from the railway board, and it is expected that land acquisition is going to begin soon for this project. In the last year’s railway budget, 1 lakh rupees was allocated for this project. This amount may be small or negligible compared to the project cost, but it has a great project administrative value to it as it confirms the implementation of the project. This much progress has not yet been made for the Nabarangpur-Junagarh rail connection, rather this project under ORIDL is taking a long time and moving at a snails’ space as was the case for Lanjigarh road-Junagarh rail line earlier. It is also not logical why people in Nayagarh, Boudh, Malakangiri, Nabrangapur, etc. will not pay charges for facilities whereas people in aspirational districts like Kalahandi and Nabarangpur under the Junagarh-Nabarangpur line have to pay charges under ORIDL.
Unless Odisha Government is positively involved in pressurizing the process, it will take years to get final approval as already 4 years have passed since ORIDL was formed, without any tender or budgetary approval. A public and political movement is needed to take immediate action for the completion of the Junagarh-Nabarangpur line without any further delay.
(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 )