Delhi HC orders board to review the alignment of the Kashmir rail link project

The Katra-Banihal section of the Kashmir rail project is delayed due to bureaucratic hassles

pankaj

Pankaj Kumar | May 30, 2014



Almost 12 years after construction began on the 126 km long Katra-Banihal section of the rail link to Kashmir, a bench of the High Court of Delhi has ordered the railway board to conduct a review of the alignment by setting up a committee of experts.  
 
The High Court division bench, consisting of Justices Badar Durrez Ahmed and Siddharth Mridul, has directed the railway board to judge the relative technical merits and demerits of the existing and the proposed alternative alignment by an expert committee (which will include E Sreedharan, former chief of DMRC) within eight weeks: the board has been asked to take a decision regarding the alignment and other issues like cost within four weeks thereafter.  

The order has come in response to a PIL filed by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL). Prashant Bhushan, appearing for CPIL, argued that “the review of alignment which railway board had conducted from Februrary 2008 to August 2009 was scuttled by internal manipulations within the board, and as a result the board decided on 31.08.09 to retain the existing flawed alignment without properly examining vital stability and safety issues. Board also failed to consider an alternative alignment that was stable, safe and economical”.

COMPARISON OF THE EXISTING AND THE ALTERNATIVE ALIGNMENTS

 The existing slope-skirting alignment

 

The alternative alignment

 

About two-third of the line will be resting on unstable mountain slopes along the geological fault-lines

Crosses most of the fault-lines at close to 90 degrees

Many large bridges situated on landslide-prone locations on the mountain slopes

Only seven bridges, all of which are at the base of a valley

Several long, highly curved tunnels

Predominantly straight tunnels

A mega-arch bridge of 500 m length at 259 m above the bed in a gorge in Chenab river

The largest bridge has a length of 160 m and height 160 m

A single-line route will cost about Rs 20,000 crore

 

A double-line route is likely to cost about Rs 18,000 crore

 

He further said that despite the earlier orders by the Delhi High Court in December 2009 and September 2012, the railway board did not seriously consider CPIL’s representation that the board should review its August 2009 decision to retain the existing flawed alignment.

The Qazigund-Katra leg of the Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla Rail Link Project was announced by the then-PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2002.
 
The target was to open the line in five years, that is by 2007. However, in the 126 km long stretch from Katra to Banihal, the construction ran into serious engineering problems. By 2007 hardly 10 percent of the work could be done. Several tunnels collapsed during construction and work on none of the major bridges could even be started.

In February 2008, the railway board began a systematic review of the alignment after a study by the chief engineer AK Verma, which said that the existing slope-skirting type of alignment, which has a gradient of one in 100, is unsuitable for the terrain and geological conditions of the region, which will result in serious problems of stability and safety and make construction very difficult. He proposed adoption a new alignment with a gradient of about one in 40, which he had developed, that will cross the fault-lines favourably at close to 90 degrees, with predominantly straight tunnels and much smaller and fewer bridges.

A high level expert committee was set up with the approval of the ministry of railway August 2008 to study both the existing and the alternative alignment, but its work was marred by serious omissions and inconsistencies.

The CAG, in its December 2012 report on performance audit of the Kashmir project, made a scathing indictment of the railway board for mishandling the alignment question right from the inception of the project. By July 2012, only 12-14 percent of the work had been done, and the cost had increased four to six folds. About 93 km of the original alignment stands abandoned. Total financial implications of abandoned alignment have been put at Rs 3,258 crore by the CAG.

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