Tamil Diplomat

PM Modi intervenes, gets Railways and Defence to put aside land tussle

AFTER STALLING work of a key railway project in Hyderabad for two years, the Army may get a new rifle range for itself in the bargain — in lieu of its existing rifle range. The rifle range has not been in use for nearly three decades. It took Prime Minister Narendra Modi to crack the whip on this long tussle between Railways and Defence ministries recently and get the Cabinet Secretary to mediate between the two ministries for work to get under way on four kilometers of railway tracks.

The issue goes back to 1984, when the Railways had taken 68 acres from a rifle range in Hyderabad for its Sanathnagar-Moulali section for movement of freight trains. The Army objected, asserting that the tracks would make the rifle range on a 730-acre land unusable for shooting practice. The Army asked the Railways to acquire 1,200 acres and hand it over for a new rifle range as compensation. The Army did not agree to accept money as per the then market value of 68 acres, which worked out to be Rs 1.18 crore.

The matter dragged on as Railways had no option but to give the then Andhra Pradesh government money to acquire the land required. Five years later, in 1989, the amount was Rs 1.55 crore, and was paid to the state revenue department. After a while, the state government said that it could acquire only around 37 of 1,200 acres required. Over the years, even that land has been encroached upon by locals. Train services started on the 23-km Sanathnagar-Moulali section in 1992.

The dispute got revived nearly two decades later, when the existing line through the rifle range needed to be doubled for use of passenger trains under the Multi-Modal Transport System’s Phase-II in Hyderabad. Along with doubling tracks, a building for a new Suchitra station would also have to be built. That’s when the Army remembered that it was yet to get land, as was originally agreed upon. In 2014, the Army stalled work on track-doubling in its range, even though the Railways argued that the track extension exercise would not require any significant addition to land already in its possession.

According to sources, Modi stepped in at this juncture. In the monthly Pragati meeting of video-conferencing between the Prime Minister, chief secretaries and union secretaries of infrastructure sectors, the Railways listed the item in November and presented the facts. “The PM was told that the 23-km track-doubling work could be completed by December 2017, barring the 4-km (stretch) in Defence land,” a senior government official said. “The PM immediately got the Cabinet secretary involved to look into it.”

Modi was also told that it may take two years to complete only the 4-km stretch after work starts. Cabinet Secretary P K Sinha recently called top officials of the two sparring organisations and is learnt to have told the Defence Ministry that while land for a new rifle range is a separate issue that can be evaluated, work on the tracks cannot be held up for that(THE INDIAN EXPRESS,2016).