Railways seeks security to lay lines in Naxal-hit areas

NEW DELHI: Facing serious threat from Maoists in the construction of a railway track in the mineral rich zone of Chhattisgarh, the railway ministry has written to the home ministry seeking immediate deployment of paramilitary force at Dalli Rajhara-Rowghat area in the state where 95 km of rail line is to be laid to cater to the nearby industrial belt comprising Bhilai steel plant and other industries.

Amid constant disturbances to the project from the ultras, Railway Board chairman Vinay Mittal on July 5 wrote to home secretary R K Singh seeking security for construction of the railway line whose contract was finalized almost three years ago.

Mittal wrote, “Owing to the security problems and non-availability of land free of any encumbrances, the execution agency of the first contract is already threatening to abandon the contract. Continuation of this trend is also likely to impact the second contract.”

Out of the total 95 km to be linked by rail, contract for earth work, bridges and other structures have been awarded in two parts. Though the first contract was finalized in November 2009, the threat from Maoists has virtually put construction work on hold.

The first major obstruction came in March last year when earth moving equipment and machinery was set ablaze at Keoti by the Naxalites.

The Centre has, meanwhile, decided to deploy 3,000 paramilitary personnel (mainly from the BSF) to guard nearby mining projects and the rail construction site. The BSF personnel will provide security to transport ore slurry through the Naxal-hit area to Bhilai steel plant, which may have to stop production in three to four years if new source of iron ore is not found.

State-owned SAIL had sought five battalions (5,000 men) of paramilitary forces to guard the Rowghat iron ore mines spread over 2,030 hectares in Kanker and Narayanpur districts, but the home ministry has decided to provide three battalions initially on a priority basis.

The steel company had received environment and forest clearances way back in 2009 for developing the prolific mines, located in the Bastar region of the state, but could not make much progress because of Maoist activities.

The security problem is so acute that Australian consultancy firm Hatch Associates, appointed by SAIL to prepare a detailed project exploration report, could not move ahead. The development of the mines would also require felling of around 1.5 lakh trees.

Mittal, in his letter to the home secretary, said tree cutting would only be possible once security cover was provided.


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