Suryakant Jena

Bhubaneswar: A day after the Railway Board Chairman expressed concerns over slow progress of ongoing railway projects in Odisha citing land acquisition issues as the main reason behind it, blame game politics has now intensified in the State.

Experts opine that even though the Centre has allotted highest allocation to the State in the current railway budget, uncertainty looms large over the progress of railway projects due to land issues.

Consider Khurda-Bolangir railway project which is stated to be the lifeline of western Odisha. Even though the work for the project has made significant progress from both ends, uncertain continues to loom large over the timing of completion of the much-awaited project due to land acquisition problems in Boudh and Sonepur. According to sources, laying of track and other allied works are still left to be carried out on at least 150 km of the railway project.

Not only that, several other crucial railway projects like Angul-Sukinda, Talcher-Bimlagarh line are also being delayed due to lack of coordination between the State and Central government.

Earlier last month, Union Railway Minister Piyush Goyal had also written a letter to CM Naveen Patnaik apprising him about the delay in railway projects due to land acquisition, forestry and wildlife clearance and shifting of utilities.

On top of that, the State government has also not given deemed license causing setback to smooth electrification of railways in the State which is another reason behind the delay in railway projects.

Meanwhile, the Opposition has come down heavily on the State government for failing to meet the requirements in ensuring smooth progress of railway projects.

Senior BJP leader and Sambalpur MLA Jayanarayan Mishra said, "There are provisions of compensation to people during land acquisition process and the Centre also releases funds for the same in the budgetary allocation but the Odisha government has miserably failed in utilising the money which is why the projects are suffering setbacks."

Congress legislator Santosh Singh Saluja too criticised the BJD-led government and said, "Delay in projects is leading to rise in costs which is a matter of grave concern. From the attitude of the government, it seems that the project which is scheduled for completion in 2021 will now complete in 2040 or even later than that."

On the other hand, State Transport Minister Padmanabh Behera retaliated against the Opposition for blaming the State government without closely looking at the issues.

"There are several impediments in land acquisition process and we need to change the rules so that projects can progress smoothly. We will intimate the Centre to make some amendments and have called for a review meeting on July 24 to look into the matter," said Behera.