“Z” for Zones.
“The evil that men do lives after them .The good is oft interred with their bones”
said Mark Antony in Shakespeare’s play “Julius Caesar”
Sardar Patel integrated the hundreds of princely states into the Union of India. No sooner he passed away than the process of disintegration started. The disintegration was justified as being an expression of the people’s aspirations. The process started with the breaking up of Madras state and was accelerated with the formation of linguistic states. Language is not an integrating factor as evidenced by the break up of Uttar Pradesh,Madhya Pradesh and Bihar. The agitation for a separate Telengana state started almost sixty years ago,when Hyderabad State was parceled out amongst Andhra Pradesh,Maharashtra and karnataka,reached a crescendo in 1973,simmered for the next thirty odd years and has now broken out with renewed vigour. Demands for a separate Nag-Vidharbha state and Gorkhaland have intensified.
The integration of dozens of railways,including private and state owned railways was achieved smoothly and the Indian Railways came to be consolidated into six zones,based purely on operational necessities and administrative control. This was no mean achievement,considering that Partition had dismembered the railway network without considering the impact on train operations. As a result of partition,the entire North East was cut off and the much longer route via the “chicken neck” at Siliguri had to be used. The officers and staff of the State Owned railways had to be absorbed in the new zones. The partition left huge gaps in certain categories of staff which had to be filled quickly. Most of Muslim firemen of the East Indian Railway which in its heyday stretched from Kolkata to Saharanpur opted to go to East Pakistan,paralysing train operations during the summer of 1948.
The six zones were Central,Eastern,Northern,North Eastern,Southern and Western Railways.With the nationalisation of the huge Bengal Nagpur Railway and its amalgamation with the East Indian Railway,
the nascent Eastern Railway stretched from Saharanpur to Vishakhapatnam and from Kolkata to Nagpur. It was too unwieldy an arrangement. Besides,the BNR system was a heavily freight oriented railway and its traffic was expected to increase exponentially with the setting up of the new steel plants at Bhilai,Raurkela and Durgapur,the expansion of the steel plants in Jamshedpur and Burnpur and the rise of heavy industry in the Eastern Region.
Shri K.C.Bakhle,then Chief Commissioner (now called Chairman Railway Board)of Indian Railways,told the Union Minister for Railways that the BNR should be formed into a separate zone. The MR disagreed. Bakhle resigned in protest. Subsequently,Bakhle’s stand was vindicated and the BNR had to be made a separate zone.Soon thereafter,the strategically important lines in the North East had to be separated from the North Eastern zone and formed into the North Frontier Railway. The NERly was a Metre Gauge Railway which extended all the way from Dibrugarh to Achnera,with its headquarters at Gorakhpur,and had become too unwieldy.
The next railway to be formed was the South Central Railway in 1966,with headquarters at Secunderabad.At that time the Southern Railway had eight divisions,namely,Madras(Chennai),Olavakkot,Tiruchy,Madurai,Hubli,Mysore,Guntakal and Vijaywada.Its control extended up to Pune in the West and Waltair in the East. With the growth of traffic,this Railway had also become too big to be managed from Chennai.hence a new railway was established,taking away Sholapur and Secunderabad divisions from Central Railway and Hubli and Vijayawada divisions from the Southern Railway.
Linguistic state politics raised its ugly head with the staff of Sholapur division going on strike in 1972 against its inclusion in SCRly..That politicians of both Maharashtra and Andhra obviously had a hand in fanning this agitation,considering that it took nearly six years for matters to come to a head.At the same time,the politicians of Andhra Pradesh agitated for the inclusion of Guntakal Division in South Central Railway.Incredible as it may seem now,the news of the strike was censored.for a few months no train ran in Sholapur division,and all the Chennai-Mumbai trains were diverted through Nagpur.The Railway administration gave in to the agitators’ demand. Sholapur Division went back to Central Railway and Guntakal Division came to South Central Railway. Even though the re writing of SCRly’s boundaries was politically motivated,it suited the railways’ operational and administrative interests.
For the next thirty years,no new zones were formed,though the railways were considering setting up a new zone at Jaipur by consolidating the Metre Gauge portions of the Western and Northern Railways,namely,Ajmer,Jodhpur ,Jaipur and Bikaner divisions,and another zone at Singrauli,taking lines from Eastern Central and Northern Railways. It appears that when these proposals were put up to the Ministry,Ram Vilas Paswan,then Union minister seized on this opportunity and declared that the new zones were being set up at Hajipur(Obviously!) and Jaipur. This started the trend to form new railway zones along state boundary lines with absolutely no regard to operational necessities or administrative efficiency. The new East Central Railway took away the profit making Dhanbad division of Eastern Railway. After all the sycophants had to show that the Minister’s Railway was making huge profits.
To please the Prime Minister,who happened to be from Karnataka,a new zone called South Western Railway was set up at Bangalore. Unfortunately,Shri Nitish Kumar,Ram Vilas Paswan’s successor also jumped on the bandwagon and announced new zones to please the NDA allies in the NDA coalition. New zones were announced for Bhubaneswar,Jabalpur and Allahabad. All hell broke loose and railway property worth over five hundred million rupees was destroyed before the newly formed state of Chattisgarh got its own railway at Bilaspur. Further agitations took place and the South Western Railway was shifted to from Bangalore to Hubli.
Thus,in one fell swoop,the Indian Railway system was carved up into political fiefdoms,pandering to divisive interests. Everybody boarded the gravy train except the Gazetted officers under the banner of the Federation of Railway Officers Associations. Surprisingly,there was some resistance from the AIRF (all India Railway men’s Federation).The office bearers of the FROA were victimised by sudden transfers.The MR just could not stomach the fact that these new zones will increase the staff costs with no commensurate benefits.He told the Officers, “Why are you opposing the formation of the new railways?Don’t you see that I have increased your chances of promotion to higher grades?The number of General Managers Posts has almost doubled.”
The setting up of new zones and new divisions has led to diffusion of accountability. Let me illustrate:the coach attendant in Tamil Nadu Express noticed that some unauthorised people had entered the reserved compartments when the train was on its way from New Delhi to Chennai. When the train stopped at Agra,the coach attendant pushed these people out. After the train left Agra,the very same persons entered via the interconnecting vestibule from the adjoining coach. The coach attendant sought the help of the TTE who just ignored him. He then sought the assistance of the RPF(Railway Protection Force)constables. Instead of ejecting the unauthorised travellers,the RPF beat up the coach attendant and left him senseless. The train had ,in its 414 km journey,passed through three railways (Northern ,North Central and West Central and three divisions,Delhi,Agra and Jhansi. The TTE s ,coach attendant and RPF were from North Central,Southern and Northern Railways.
How can the travelling public expect any service from the railway staff?
Today,the proliferation of zones and divisions has affected the morale of the officers.The new zones are regarded as punishment postings. The infrastructure in terms of schooling,recreation and medical facilities is lacking at the new zonal and divisional headquarters. The day is not far off when the states will demand that officers belonging to that state should be posted at the new zones.
Sadly,no Union Minister is immune to the temptation of creating new zones and new divisions.A new division has already been announced for Gulbarga,and a new division is likely to come at Mangalore. There is also a demand was a West Coast Railway headquartered at Kochi.
When will the politicians,and the bureaucrats who pander to their whims,realise that the Indian Railways is run by the Central Government and not by the State Governments?Certainly, “small is ugly” for railways.
I have in the last twenty five posts delved into my experience and suggested solutions to the problems facing the railways. Like a doctor,I have suggested medicines for the diseases afflicting the railways.
The Indian Railways,by creating new zones and divisions,have shown suicidal tendencies which cannot be cured by any ordinary medicine.