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From Lunar to Locomotive Feat: 72 Years After Independence, This Tribal-dominated MP District Has its Own 'Moon Mission Moment'

Residents, while citing reasons behind the delay in rail link introduction in Alirajpur, claimed that the area is dominated by tribals who never could press for the demand of rail link.

Vivek Trivedi | News18.com

Updated:November 2, 2019, 10:07 AM IST
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From Lunar to Locomotive Feat: 72 Years After Independence, This Tribal-dominated MP District Has its Own 'Moon Mission Moment'
MP GS Damor flagged off the train which would run from Alirajpur to Chhota Udaipur (Baroda)

Bhopal: Weeks after the country dazzled many across the globe by Chandrayaan 2, the natives of a far-flung tribal dominated district Alirajpur have their own share of moon — a train that took almost 72 years after Independence to reach the district.

As bizarre as it may sound, the ill-developed district carved out of Jhabua — that shares the border with Gujarat — had to wait for over seven decades to get the train connectivity and when the first train was actually flagged off at the local railway station, it was no less than a festival for the local residents who turned out in large numbers to mark their attendance on the occasion.

As soon as the train arrived blowing whistle on Wednesday, local residents cheered with drums and firecrackers.

After welcoming the locomotive staff, Member of Parliament GS Damor flagged off the train which would run from Alirajpur to Chhota Udaipur (Baroda). The MP on the occasion claimed that for the time being a single train would ferry passengers on the route and number of trains would increase in future.

The enthusiasm and happiness among the residents could be gauged from the fact that the locals from across the district had reached the station to witness commencement of railway service in the district.

If the introduction of rail service was delayed, the project completion was equally lethargic as the announcement for this rail route was made by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh way back in 2008.

BJP MP Damor, speaking to News18 on the project, claimed that UPA government had announced the project in year 2008 but did not sanction budget so it got stuck. When the BJP government led by PM Narendra Modi came to power, it laid special emphasis on tribal areas and the project was expedited.

The MP however kept fending off query as to why the region was deprived of rail link in last seven decades. He did claim that the rail link till Dhar would be complete by year 2022.

Meanwhile, not only in Alirajpur, the rail connectivity is absent in the region — home to the tribal population of the state.

The initiative for the rail project from Alirajpur was taken in 2004 when handful of residents led by then Janta Dal leader (now in Congress) Khurshid Ali Diwan formed Rail Lao Samiti (RLS) and approached then MoS for Railways Naranbhai Rathwa, a politician from Chhota Udaipur.

When we had formed the committee, locals used to ridicule us and hardly anyone backed us, recounted Diwan who claimed that the committee shelled out money from own pockets to run the campaign. The MoS approached by us was positive on the project and led us to then Railways minister Lalu Yadav, said Diwan who had good relations with Yadav due to his association with Janta Dal.

Yadav, who had immense respect for late volunteer tribal Baleshwar Dayal, had even issued 10% funds for the project, perhaps the only rail project in India to have received this as such projects require 50% share from the state concerned, claimed the Congress leader, adding the UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and then PM Manmohan Singh had assigned the nod for the project.

He also claimed that former Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan also had extended support to the project with budgetary allocations from the Centre.

Diwan refuted BJP allegations of UPA not assigning funds for the project and instead accused Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led government in state of stalling the project by hindering land acquisition for the same.

The volunteer activist claimed that the rail link is crucial for the region which is dotted by cement and dolomite powder and is a major market for desi mangoes. Around 50% local labourers visit Baroda in Gujarat for work and the rail link would ensure that the fare to reach Baroda comes down from Rs 150 (bus) to Rs 35.

Unlike similar campaigns, the RLS did not for once stage violent protest or dharna or rail roko protest for completing the project, claimed Diwan, calling it a non-violent Gandhian project.

Residents, while citing reasons behind the delay in rail link introduction in Alirajpur, claimed that the area is dominated by tribals who never could press for the demand of rail link and leaders kept promising them roads, electricity pole or ration shops for decades. Besides, a strong road transport mafia in the region also ensured that demand for rail link never gathered steam.

Going into pre-Independence era, the ruler of Jobat (in the same region) had made efforts for extending rail link from Chhota Udaipur to the region but an enmity between states of Jobat and Alirajpur ensued that the project never took off.

The Dahod (Guj)-Khandwa (MP) rail link was proposed after Independence but it never got completed mostly due to indifference of the locals.

Local resident Md Ashiq Khan speaking to News18 affirmed that rail link could never reach as, "Upar se kabhi kuchh hua hi nahin" (The policy makers in national capital never did anything). He also claimed that after the project was announced, land acquisition was problematic and took long years.

The local businessman, however, claimed that the rail link is a boon for the region and expected that the rail connectivity is extended till Dahod (Guj).

(Inputs from Wasim Makrani, Alirajpur)

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