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What use is the Konkan Railway?

By Mahesh Vijapurkar
Last updated on: June 09, 2010 15:38 IST
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The Konkan Railway does not adequately serve the people of the Konkan, writes Mahesh Vijapurkar.

This is about a sliver of land in Maharashtra known as the Konkan. It is a land which sends mangoes in summer and migrants almost every day to Mumbai and even after some nominal development, the people who stay behind do benefit from the money orders -- or bank drafts -- that they periodically receive from the Mumbai metropolitan region. They come, struggle, stay and sustain people back home.

This makes the strip from Mumbai to towns and villages of Konkan a high density corridor for traffic, carrying people back and forth, the numbers increasing phenomenally during holidays, including weekends. It is not just that all people heading south on the Mumbai-Goa highway are heading to the sylvan beaches of the state with the quaint Portuguese ways and feni. Konkan is their destination.

The point is that despite a decade of the Konkan Railways, sadly people have to rely on the bus services run by the state transport corporation and the private air-conditioned luxury buses. Because, though some 75 trains run up and down the 760 km long tracks linking Mumbai and Mangalore, not enough of them serve the region. A handful of them stop at stations for the use of the Konkanis.

If the railways which was put in place after a 100 years of demand were really useful to the locals there and used by them, then each of the stations if served well by the system would have been thriving, vibrant points. They would not remain virtually desolate till a train arrives and sink into somnolence once it departs.

No wonder, Narayan Rane, a minister from that region recently demanded that to service the region well, a few trains dedicated to the region within Maharashtra should be started. That is not enough, said Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil, another minister and wrote to Mamata Bannerjee that either Sindhudurg or Kudal should be turned into full-fledged terminals. Without doing that, it would be difficult to run the system.

People of Konkan are -- and have always been -- passionate about the railways. In 1884, some 30 years after the Mumbai-Thane tracks were laid, the local body of Pen adopted a resolution demanding a train service and asked that apart from their town, Kasu and Nagothane be provided with stations. The region's engagement with a train as a dream is of that vintage. It took shape ever so slowly, and the participation of the people had been substantial in making it possible.

They battled delays too, with a committee in Mumbai even observed 100 years of non-compliance with the Pen civic body's resolution with the intent of mocking at the ministry of railways for their insensitivity though way back in 1948, a railway official, A B Walavalkar, upon retirement had made it his mission to travel the region and tell the people that despite the region being hilly, because of the Western Ghats, a railway was feasible.

Of course, so passionate were the people of the region for a railway that each citizen, wanted a train to start from Mumbai and touch his village but did not much bother where it would terminate on the southern end. They needed the train to Mumbai because that was where the jobs were, and Konkan was where jobs were not and are not, even now.

Lands were parted with for the tracks when it began to take shape in the 1980s, without much ado. People almost easily complied with the demand for land and some even subscribed to the bonds floated to finance the project because they thought the trains would serve them. Instead, they find that Konkan is a corridor that carries the trains linking distant places to the south, the only desire being to cut their travel time. So leaving them without adequate trains is a sad thing.

The question is why is Maharashtra government, which have 22 per cent equity in the Konkan Railway Corporation, silent and why are only two ministers, Rane and Vikhe Patil, talking about improved arrangements to make the system respond to the needs of the locals? I am sure that every time a train passes on the tracks and the locals see it, they would be irked. In 2008-09, as many as 9,048 trains used the tracks, most of them serving others, not the Konkan.

Of course, there are other constraints: Madhu Dandavate was voted to power because he campaigned for the trains as much as Nath Pai did as an MP and when the system was developed and people found that Rajapur town -- part of his constituency -- was 27 kms from there, they voted him out. The terrain compelled such alignments.

But one thing keeps the Konkani from becoming furious at the inadequacy of the railways. Each taluk in Konkan has a bus from major state transport depots in Mumbai which serves him well. He need not get off at a remote station in Konkan and then look for alternate transport when the bus is almost a door-to-door service. Had not the terrain been inconvenient, there could have been trouble.

That does not mean that major towns should not have their train links to Mumbai strengthened. The purpose has to be true to its name which has a Konkan in it. To argue that the entire stretch from Mumbai to Mangalore is Konkan would be missing the point.

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Mahesh Vijapurkar