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Feb 09, 2011 at 09:58am IST

Kashmir rail link project in a mess?

New Delhi: Is the prestigious Kashmir Rail Link project doomed to fail? CNN-IBN has accessed official audio-recordings of a key meeting between senior railway officials, which reveal critical construction failures, and a possible cover up, as India's and the Railway's prestige was at stake.

During the meeting, former member of Railway Board RR Jaruhar said, "Do you want to go back and tell him (Prime Minister)? It's a national project, he will have to be consulted, cabinet will have to be consulted. Will you go and tell - 'Sir we bloody well made a serious mistake'. Can we afford to say this?"

Former Managing Director of Konkan Railway Corporation Limited, Anurag Mishra, said in the meeting, "This would be the first time we will be announcing to the whole world that we were totally wrong. I don't think we can do that. It will not only be a national but an international catastrophe for India and railways."

With collapsing tunnels, rising costs and over Rs 1000 crore of outstanding claims by contractors at present, the rail lifeline to Kashmir is in a mess.

Chief Administrative Officer of Kashmir Rail Link Project BP Khare said during the meeting, "In fact during construction itself, we had the cases of four portals collapsing. We were doing the tunneling, the portals collapsed. Also the problem about the bridges. Very tall bridges are there which are in the deep 'khadas'. The problem is because of 1 in 100 gradient. We have to take detour to meet the height. As a result we have to go on the side slopes of these hills."

The meeting was held to debate former Chief Engineer Alok Verma's proposal to alter the rail alignment of the difficult Katra-Banihal stretch. Verma's plan would reduce the route length from 125 km to just 67 km, cutting costs by half, from Rs 21000 crore to Rs 11000 crore. It was also safer, as only 5 per cent of the route would run over geological fault lines.

Then Managing Directors of PSUs IRCON and Konkan Railways Corporation, who were handling the construction were heard admitting that they rushed into the project without proper planning.

Anurag Mishra said, "With Prime Minister's deadline of August 15, 2007, I think we went to the project too early. One line of thinking is that five years should have been spent in doing various kinds of investigations, fix up the alignment and then attempt the thing."

IRCON Managing Director Ankush Krishnan said, "The action plan was that we did not have any survey map, we didn't have any contour sheet, we did not have any digital map, we did not have any aerial satellite map."

A former railway board member, who had ordered the audio recording of these meetings stated that the project was bungled at the planning stage.

In June 2009, a high powered committee of the railways had suggested that 75 percent of the current alignment of the rail link be abandoned. In September 2010 also, the Delhi High Court did ask why the proposal to alter the rail alignment was scuttled by top railway officials. So, will the prestigious Kashmir rail link ever get back on track, or will the cover-up behind closed doors continue?

But railway authorities are in denial mode. AP Mishra, member of the railway board said that the officals were misquoted and that the project is well on track.

"Alok Verma, the one's name mentioned in the story, was an engineer on the project. He worked for sometime and he gave certain ideas, which were thoroughly examined by an expert committee constituted by the Ministry of Railways.

"It gave the detailed report and told that those were not based on factual situations and hence not accepted. The situation today is that the work is progressing well and we are confident of completing it in the shortest possible time," he said.

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