Blanket ban on manual scavenging faces railway hurdle

The proposed blanket ban on manual scavenging, backed by strong penal provisions, leaves a big question mark on the country’s biggest open toilet — railway tracks.
The task of coping with a ban on manual cleaning of 1.15 lakh km of rail tracks criss-crossing the country raised concerns in the railway ministry which sought an exemption from the proposed law. The social justice ministry, however, said the activity of manual scavenging had to be barred, be it private households or railway tracks.

The Cabinet on Thursday passed the Bill that seeks to penalize manual scavenging and unsafe cleaning of sewers and septic tanks. The census figures show 26 lakh insanitary latrines while rail tracks compound the problem manifold.

The proposed law would give nine months to make the transition from the present system of dry latrines and manual cleaning to sanitary disposal of human waste. The law is at least a year away as it is to be vetted by a parliamentary committee, but the idea of no-manual-scavenging raises hackles in a country where the practice continues despite being banned by a 1993 law.

The new law sounds like an ultimatum: end manual scavenging or face penal provisions.

“Unless the authorities are told there is no option, the practice would continue. If we say it cannot be done, the authorities have to find out how to ensure compliance of the law,” a Cabinet minister argued defending the transition from the “gradual” approach of the past to a radical zero tolerance.
But a strong “stakeholder” like railways believes the law may not be practical given the mammoth task at hand. Ahead of the Bill being cleared by the Cabinet, railways sought exemption for tracks, arguing this came under “safety and maintenance” functions.

Ministry of social justice headed by Mukul Wasnik, however, rejected the railways’ plea on the ground that making such exception would take the sting out of the law as defecation along rail tracks is the biggest trigger for manual scavenging. “For example, if 10,000 manual scavengers are allowed for rail tracks, then the law kicks in as a non-starter,” argued an official.

Sanitation and drinking water minister Jairam Ramesh, too, has pledged funds to help creation of new regime, both in railways and in villages, to eliminate manual cleaning.

Published in: on August 29, 2012 at 12:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

Pilot project to remove encroachments near tracks

In order to remove encroachments along tracks, Railways will construct special low-cost houses for slum dwellers in Mumbai, Sealdah, Siliguri, Tiruchirapalli and Delhi.

Aptly named ‘Sukhi Griha’ scheme, the project entails construction of low-cost houses for slum dwellers, who are residing near the tracks thus affecting the smooth movement of trains.

“We have undertaken steps for removal of encroachments by giving them small shelters through Sukhi Griha Scheme and also through other central schemes. The Sukhi Griha scheme aims for slum dwellers’ rehabilitation and resettlement in a planned manner,” said a senior Railway Ministry official.

Poverty drives many people to live dangerously near railway tracks and often risk their lives. “These dwellers also affect smooth movement of trains. So we have adopted a human approach for removing encroachments along the tracks,” the official said.

At present, there are about 1,34,841 encroachments reported on railway land.

Railways have approximately 4.31 hectares of land, out of which about 981 hectares of total land holding, are under encroachment.

According to data prepared by the Railway Ministry, over 220 hectares of railway land have been encroached in the Northern Zone, followed by 167 hectares in Northeast Frontier Zone and 162 hectares in South Eastern Zone.

Railways have shelled out Rs 22 crore for Mumbai and Rs 11 crore for Delhi under the scheme till now. “Funds will be provided for other cities also as detailed rehabilitation plans are being worked out with states concerned,” said the official.

The scheme was announced in the Rail Budget 2011-12 by then Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee.

Besides this, railways has also taken up the issue with Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation Ministry to arrive at a solution to relocate slums under the Rajiv Awas Yojna in cooperation with the state governments concerned.

Trolley buses to ply on Kolkata roads by December

If you are a resident of south Kolkata, chances are high you will have the privilege of travelling on comfortable, pollution-free trolley buses by the end of this year. And if you stay elsewhere, don’t lose heart. The transport department has plans to expand the network of trolley buses to other parts of the city soon.

If everything goes according to plans, these electricity-run trolley buses will start plying between Ballygunge and Tollygunge, where tram services had been suspended around a year back. The Ballygunge-Khidderpore route is the second in line to get these buses.

The transport department has decided to opt for trolley buses to make use of overhead wires of the tramways. After tram services were suspended in some parts of the city, the overhead wires were left unused for years. At many places, tracks have also been removed or have been covered with a coat of bitumen. But that won’t deter the introduction of trolley buses as these would ply on pneumatic tyres and no tracks will be required.

Top brass of the transport department feels these fuel-efficient buses will boost up the public transport system in a major way. “These electric buses will be of great help in routes where tram services have been suspended. Also, we don’t have to spend money for the tracks. We have made a proposal to the government for utilizing the overhead wires by running trolley buses. Now the state government is going to buy these trolley buses,” said CTC chairman Shantilal Jain. Tenders have already been floated for private players to bid for the supply of these buses.

“In some routes, poles with electric wires can be laid very quickly to introduce the trolley buses. It will be cheaper to run these vehicles. Maintenance cost will also be low,” said Jain. However, there will be an initial cost for setting up the power back-up system and the pantographs, a metal framework that ensure a smooth running of trolley buses. The department is in touch with German experts to bring in the technology for running trolley buses successfully.

Officials have pegged the cost of introducing the trolley buses at Rs 100 crore, with the cost of each bus ranging between Rs 30-40 lakh. Jain said the department was scouting for funds with the urban development ministry. JNNURM funds can also be used for buying these buses. “We are even looking for funds from the Asian Development Bank. We are preparing a project report for that,” Jain said. Around 10 buses will be introduced in the first place.

The erstwhile Left government had also planned to introduce trolley buses in the city. “But things did not materialize as there was lack of response as only three companies had expressed their interest to set up the trolley-bus system in Kolkata,” a transport official said.

Published in: on August 29, 2012 at 12:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

Railways’ freight corridor to be signal free

The 3,338 km exclusive freight corridor, being constructed by the Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation, will be level crossing free to ensure seamless transportation of goods.

The move has come as a major help for railways as it will ensure elimination of around 1,900 level crossings by constructing road over-bridges or road under-bridges on existing railways routes along the freight corridor route.

The plan will not only eliminate accidents at level crossings but will also improve the line capacity as trains get held up at busy level crossing gates.

“Railway Board has cleared the plan which will cost around Rs 15,000 crore. DFCC has been given the responsibility to execute it,” said RK Gupta, MD, DFCC.

Currently, of the total 32,735 level crossings, 14,896 are unmanned and these lead to deaths due to negligence of road users.

Casualties in level crossing accidents contribute to 65% deaths and 38% injuries out of the total tally of casualties due to train accidents of all types. Also, level crossing gates are resource intensive for their operation and maintenance.

The railways’ high-level committee on safety headed by Anil Kakodkar has emphasized the need to eliminate all level crossings whether manned (with or without signals) or unmanned in the next five years.

Apart from saving lives, it is estimated that savings on account of elimination of all level crossings will be to the tune of about Rs 7,000 crore every year, the committee said.

Despite passing through a financial crunch, the government is supporting the ambitious freight project that is seen as a necessity for survival of the transporter.

The Rs 77,000-crore mega project aims to build new tracks to transport containers and commodities at speeds of 100 km per hour, reducing travel time by a third. The corridors will ensure a quantum leap in increasing the railways’ transportation capacity by building high-speed and high-capacity dedicated freight corridors.

Considering the importance of the project for economic growth, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) is monitoring progress of construction of the exclusive freight corridors.

It is expected that operationalisation of freight corridors will lead to shifting of freight traffic from road to low carbon intensive transport mode.

Railways plan to curb cellphone menace

Showing concern over increasing number of complaints regarding talking loudly on mobile phones by passengers and irritating sound of objectionable ring tones buzzing inside the coaches which affect the comfort level of fellow passengers, the Railway Board has decided to create awareness among people through mass media and public address system at the stations.

In this connection, director, passenger marketing in the Railway Board Monica Agnihotri has written letters to all chief commercial managers of Indian Railways including North Central Railway. The number of letter is 2012/TG-V/19/02 dated July 23.

The letter states that the matter has been examined by Board and with a view to making the use of mobile phone annoyance free to other passengers, inside the compartment, it has been decided that passengers be educated about the adverse impact on the comfort of fellow passengers of such usage.

It is pertinent to mention that there were large number of complaints regarding talking loudly on cell phones, long conversations by the passengers and sound of objectionable ring tones buzzing inside the enclosed space of coaches, especially inside AC coaches.

This effects the comfort level of other passengers and has been brought to the notice of the Board from time to time.

The letter mentions that as long conversations, talking loudly on phones and buzzing of ring tones having questionable contents in high volume disturb co-passengers, the co-operation of the passengers should be solicited to keep their mobiles on silent/vibration mode or the ringtone at low volume and also to avoid talking loudly and make their conversation shorts as far as possible by making announcement through Public Address System, wherever the same is available. Further, stickers should be displayed in coaches, especially AC coaches.

Talking to TOI, chief public relations officer of North Central Railway Sandeep Mathur informed that the zone would undertake awareness drive among the passengers that they should use mobile phones in such a way that it should not cause problems to the fellow passengers.

Railway stations in Mumbai escalating into a new reality

With the railways kickstarting the process of getting six-meter high escalators for Vikhroli station, the ambitious Rs2.7 crore project for the city’s suburban railway stations is finally becoming a reality.

The tenders for the escalator at Vikhroli will be opened by September-end. Besides Vikhroli, the railways plan to install escalators at 30 city stations, including Dadar, Kurla, Borivli, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus and Kalyan.

While Indians are used to using escalators in malls, public places and metro rail stations, like in New Delhi, it is probably for the first time in recent years that these hi-tech devices will be used in an open environment in Mumbai.

Though commuters, including the dabbawalas, fisherfolk, women commuter bodies and passenger associations, have largely welcomed the decision, each one of them wants the escalators to be customised to their needs.

A few commuters are also worried that there could be a stampede with the kind of undisciplined crowd at our stations.

“Will escalators work at our stations where there is chaos and a huge number of commuters always in a hurry? There could be a stampede and one would have to be very careful with them, especially women wearing sarees. They also require a cleaner surrounding as compared to the filthy stations at present and need to be protected from harsh weather and vandalism. Eventually, I am sure they would become dysfunctional and be used as staircases,” said Shilpa Mehta, a Western Railway commuter.

But transport experts believe that escalators at railway stations are the need of the hour for faster mass transit.

“We cannot slowdown due to such fears. It is a welcome sign and the railways should have got them much earlier. The bridges will always remain there, but escalators would help many, especially senior citizens and the disabled,” said Arun Mokashi, a transport specialist with the World Bank.

“When upgrading the infrastructure, initially there would be problems. But we could always work out solutions and monitor them or put in place some gadget that would help,” suggested Mokashi, who was the key person in reviving the transport infrastructure in Afghanistan after the war. He is at present leading an Afro-Indian team of specialists in Zanzibar to improve land, air and maritime transportation services there.

Published in: on August 29, 2012 at 12:17 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Udhampur-Baramulla rail link to cost Rs 19,565 crore

The latest anticipated cost of the ambitious Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla new rail line project has been now pegged at Rs 19,565 crore. It is expected to be complete by December 2017. The latest information available says of the Rs 19,565 crore, Rs 7,917 crore has been incurred till March 2012.

The rail link would connect the higher reaches of Kashmir with the rest of the country. The project, which has been divided into three legs, has seen the commissioning of the 119-km-long railway line between Qazigund and Baramulla.

However, it is the other parts of the 345-km-long railway line between Udhampur and Baramulla, which are causing a delay in the project mainly due to difficult terrain and inhospitable weather.

The railway authorities say 95 per cent work on the 25-km stretch between Udhampur and Katra has been completed and the work on the rest of the 5-km-long stretch is expected to be complete by the end of the year.

The progress on the Katra-Qazigund stretch is the slowest. There has been only 13 per cent progress on the 148-km-long stretch. While the Qazigund-Banihal section in Kashmir is expected to be complete between 2012 and 2013, the remaining portion is expected to be complete by December 2017.

While the project was initially expected to the complete by 2007, work on the 70-km-long Katra-Dharama stretch, which is part of the 148-km-long Katra-Qazigund section, remained suspended for more than a year due to geological problems during construction.

An Expert Committee was appointed to examine various issues, including alternative alignments.

Reports say the world’s highest rail bridge being constructed over the Chenab in Reasi district, which is part of the Udhampur-Baramulla railway line, is expected to be ready by December 2015.


The 345-km-long Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla rail link is expected to be complete by December 2017
The rail link will connect the higher reaches of Kashmir with the rest of the country
Of the total amount for the project, Rs 7,917 crore has been incurred till March 2012
The 119-km-long railway line between Qazigund and Baramulla has been commissioned
The project has been delayed mainly due to difficult terrain and inhospitable weather
95 per cent work on the 25-km stretch between Udhampur and Katra has been completed
The progress on the Katra-Qazigund stretch is the slowest. There has been only 13 per cent progress on the 148-km-long stretch.

Panj Takht Darshan Train Guide

The Panj Takht Darshan is a special tourist train for the Sikh community. It takes passengers on a spiritual tour to the Five Takhts (Panj Takht) — the five gurudwaras (places of worship) that are of great significance for Sikhs. The aim of the train is to provide Sikhs with a convenient and hassle free pilgrimage, within the shortest time.
Panj Takht Darshan Journey Duration:

The Panj Takht Darshan has two departure points — Amritsar and Delhi. Starting from Delhi, the tour runs for six nights/seven days. It runs for four nights/five days from Amritsar.
Panj Takht Darshan Route and Itinerary:
The tour departs from Delhi on December 30, 2012 and Amritsar on January 1, 2013. It has the following itinerary:

•Day One — Delhi (7 p.m. departure from Safdarjung Railway Station to Amritsar).
•Day Two — Amritsar. Sightseeing, and visits to Sri Akal Takht Sahib Ji and Sri Darbar Harmandir Sahib Ji (the Golden temple). Overnight stay at Amritsar. The highlight is spending New Year’s Eve there.
•Day Three — Sirhind. Sightseeing and then travel to Anandpur Sahib by road. Sightseeing of Anandpur Sahib Ji. Those departing from Amritsar join the tour on Day Three.
•Day Four — Bhatinda. Sightseeing and lunch at Sri Damdama Sahib Ji.
•Day Five — Arrival back in Delhi. Charter flight to Patna. Visit Patna Sahib. Charter flight to Nanded. Laser show at Hazoor Sahib Ji. Overnight stay in Nanded.
•Day Six — Nanded. Visit Sri Hazur Sahib Ji. Flight from Aurangabad to Delhi. Overnight stay in Delhi.
•Day Seven — Delhi. Visits to Bangla Sahib Ji and Sisganj Gurudwara. Those heading back to Amritsar depart Delhi by Shatabdi train or Volvo bus.

Panj Takht Darshan Features:

The Panj Takht Darshan uses carriages from a Rajdhani train. This is a fully air conditioned train offering two different classes of travel — 1AC and 2AC. The train will seat 210 passengers, with 72 seats in the 1AC compartment and 138 seats in the 2AC compartment. Although you may see it advertized as a “luxury train”, it’s not. However, it’s comfortable enough. Passengers are greeted with garlands, provided with all meals and accommodations (either on the train or in a hotel), transfers and sightseeing by AC coach, services of religious guides during visits to the gurudwaras, and flights to Patna and Nanded.

The Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) will manage the operation of the train journey. However, Luxury Trains tour company will manage the logistics of the air travel in the second leg of the tour.

Panj Takht Darshan Cost and Classes of Travel:

For departures from Delhi, the cost is 90,000 rupees per person in 2AC and 100,001 rupees per person in 1AC. For departures from Amritsar, the cost is 88,050 rupees per person in 2AC and 97,500 rupees per person in 1AC.

If you’re unsure about what the different classes of travel mean, this guide to accommodations on Indian Railways trains provides an explanation.

Panj Takht Darshan Reservations:
You can make a reservation for travel on the Panj Takht Darshan by visiting the Indian Railways Catering & Tourism Corporation’s Rail Tourism website.

For more information, download this comprehensive Panj Takht Brochure.

Published in: on August 29, 2012 at 12:12 pm  Comments (1)  
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Enchanting ride to Araku on the cards

Tourists travelling to Araku by train may soon find the journey more enjoyable and pleasant.

On a plea made by Union Minister of State for Human Resource Development D. Purandeswari, the Railway Ministry recently asked the Government of Andhra Pradesh to send a proposal on launching a tourist train from Visakhapatnam to Araku.

As a first step in this direction, two tourist coaches with chair car facility are proposed to be added to the Visakhapatnam — Kirandul passenger during the tourist season commencing Dasara and continuing up to March.

During the tourist season, all the coaches are generally full with hardly any space to sit.

The train passes through long tunnels along the hills and valleys, which gives an exhilarating experience to tourists.

But, passengers fail to enjoy the scenic beauty, as they hardly have space to sit properly in the overcrowded train. Many sit on the upper berth as the doorways and windows are full of ‘peeping passengers’.

This has been robbing passengers of the most delightful experience year after year.

“The 1 VK passenger runs with 11 coaches during normal time. But during the tourist season, additional coaches are augmented to meet the extra rush of passengers.

“The steep gradient, however, allows only a maximum of 14 coaches,” Divisional Railway Manager Anil Kumar told The Hindu on Tuesday. On the proposal to introduce vista dome coaches for the Araku train, he said such coaches had to be specially made and could take time.

“We are yet to receive any communication on the tourist train or the tourist coaches from the zonal headquarters,” he said.

Enjoy TV in 2 intercity, Bhopal Exp trains soon

Passengers boarding two inter-city chair car trains between state capital and Jabalpur and Bhopal Express between Bhopal and Hazrat Nizamuddin might find their journey entertaining shortly with West Central Railways (WCR) deciding to install TV sets with the help of private party.

“We have invited biddings for this purpose. We are going to charge around Rs 7lakh annually per train from the person who bags the contract. He would be free to advertise and earn money via TV sets,” WCR Bhopal senior divisional commercial manager (SDCM) Mandip Bhatia told TOI.

He said under their plan, the private party would install TV sets and telecast entertainment programmes, give information about the next station to passengers and speed at which they were moving and other things.

Bhatia said four TV sets would be installed in each chair car of two intercity trains. Two TV sets would be put in corridor of Bhopal Express. He said that passengers were very curious about the next station and speed of their train while travelling.

Three trains likely to have entertainment facility are: Intercity Express – Habibganj-Jabalpur (12529), Jabalpur- Habibganj (12530), Janshatabdi Habibganj- Jabalpur (12061), Jabalpur – Habibganj (12062) and over Bhopal Express – Habibganj – Hazrat Nizamuddin (12155) and Hazrat Nizamuddin – Habibganj (12156).