Indian Railways yet to CLEAR encroached lands

Lack of coordination between the states and Centre has delayed the process of resolving encroachment cases affecting the smooth functioning of the Indian railways, writes MY Siddiqui

India has a massive network of railway lines, extending thousands of kilometres and reaching every nook and corner of India. With such enormity, it is always a challenging task to manage such mammoth network and ensure seamless operations. The Indian Railways owns 4,58,588.16 hectares of land, out of which, a significant 47,339.5 hectares (10.33 per cent) land remains unused. Around 46,408.75 hectares (10.2 per cent) land is vacant and 930.75 hectares (0.21 per cent) are under encroachment. Currently, 37,235 eviction orders by estate officers are pending for execution under the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Act, 1971, (PPE Act). However, a review by CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General) reveals non-serious pursuance of encroachment cases under the PPE Act.

The Ministry of Railways and other land owning ministries of the Union Government like Defence, Urban Development, Shipping, Transport & Highways, Home Affairs, etc. are blaming Ministry of Urban Development, which administers policy for land management in the government for not amending the PPE Act to make states responsible for eviction. Landowning ministries have been pursuing with Urban Development Ministry for several years. Successive governments have not taken any fruitful action resulting in eviction orders to stuck with no progress. Without the involvement of states, eviction of encroachments, unauthorised occupants, destruction/ removal of unauthorised construction, removal of existing, old and fresh encroachments cannot be ensured.

There is non-seriousness in the government at all level as there are big money and massive corruption in land management. Presently, land of railways under encroachment is 861.70 hectares (0.18 per cent of total land). Out of this, 152.4 hectares of land has been encroached in six big cities–Delhi, Hyderabad-Secundrabad, Chennai, Mumbai, Bangaluru and Kolkata, where 363 court cases for settlement/eviction of 81,414 encroachments are pending. Added to this, railways have, so far, not categorised its land under land grabbing, land under court cases, land under unauthorised occupation of slum dwellers, land under armed forces for its proper use and so on despite Railway Land Development Authority been set up in 2005. Encroachment of Railways land has been continuing since 1950.

Raising its concern, the CAG has stated that area under 7,775 encroachments was not available with the Zonal Railways. It said non-availability of records of encroachments is a matter of concern, that railway administration does not possess the required data and valuable evidence to defend its claim before the adjudicating authorities/ courts. According to the Audit, Railways require 3,455-kilometre boundary wall costing about 2,796 crore to protect railway land by constructing boundary wall at vulnerable locations, which is not workable in the current resource crunch that the Railways are facing. In the circumstances, Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has suggested to hire an independent agency or set up one such agency on management of railway land.

The Audit has also observed the authentication and digitisation of land records. So far, out of 53,898 land plans that are available, 81.41 per cent have been digitised. However, no land plan has been digitised in Kolkata Metro Railway. Shortfall of digitisation of 19.59 per cent land plans indicates Railways’ failure to prioritise the issue even after a clear deadline given by the Railway Board. Out of 42,182 land plans, 41,467 land plans have been authenticated and uploaded. About 4,462 land plans are yet to be authenticated, for which Railways are making efforts.

With setting up of Railway Land Development Authority in 2005, Railways administration
was buoyed that unutilised surplus land will be exploited for commercial use in Public-Private Partnership mode on 50-50 profit sharing basis, which is stuck as the states are not belling the cat. States want money, so whatever they have earned from commercial exploitation in particular state should be funnelled in the development of railways in that state, whereas, Union Government is insisting that such money has to come to the kitty of the Centre for use across the country. As a result, there has been little progress in the commercial exploitation of unused surplus of railway land. In the process, additional revenues utilised through commercial exploitation of unutilised surplus land that can take care of all-round expansion and modernisation of railways, has come a cropper!