In an “early Diwali gift” for the people of Nabarangpur, the Odisha government and Ministry of Railways will shake hands Wednesday on an agreement that is likely to lay the track for the first railway line to reach India’s poorest district in “five-six years”.
The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for setting up a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) is expected to result in at least six-seven rail projects in the state, including a 40-km link connecting the Nabarangpur district headquarters to the nearest station at Jeypore in neighbouring Koraput district.
Nabarangpur in southern Odisha is the subject of a year-long assignment by The Indian Express titled District Zero, with lack of rail connectivity emerging as a major drawback that has hampered economic growth and led to vacancies in government hospitals, schools and administration.
“All that will soon be a thing of the past if everything goes according to plan. With this MoU in place, we hope to have our first railway line in five-six years. This is an early Diwali gift for all of us in Nabarangpur,” Balabhadra Majhi, Nabarangpur MP, told The Indian Express.
Majhi is a former chief engineer in the railways and a member of the current Lok Sabha standing committee on railways. The BJD MP will be part of the Odisha delegation — including State Transport Minister Ramesh Majhi, officials and other MPs from the state — expected to be present at the signing of the MoU at Rail Bhavan.
When contacted, Minister Ramesh Chandra Majhi said that getting Jeypore connected to Nabarangpur would be the “No. 1 priority” for him. “Both the MP and I belong to Nabarangpur district and our priority will be to get a rail link for the region. We will also connect Jeypore to Malkangiri which will further lead to Bhadrachalam in Andhra Pradesh,” Odisha’s Transport Minister told The Indian Express.
A railway ministry official confirmed that the signing of the MoU would lead to the setting up of an SPV to complete various projects in Odisha. “An SPV is likely to be formed with equity participation from the railways and the Odisha government for this project, with the state chipping in with land as equity,” said the official.
When contacted, a senior state government official confirmed that an MoU was being signed. The official said that a rail link to Nabarangpur would “be a boon” but added that he would not comment on record until the project was officially announced.
MP Majhi said the rail link was held up for so long because it was found to be economically unviable. “Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has decided to go for the SPV model with the state government contributing 51 per cent of the project cost, including land,” he said.
While the Jeypore link will bring a railway line to the southern tip of Nabarangpur, there are also plans to develop a second link from the district to Junagarh in the east in Kalahandi district, said Majhi.
“This will change the social and economic landscape of Nabarangpur in the coming years, leading to new industries coming up, and more government officials and doctors willing to work here. It will be a blessing for our farmers, too, who can get better access to fertilisers and send food grains out in large quantities,” said Majhi.
But there is still some way to go before the line becomes a reality. “The initial survey was completed while discussions were on. There will now be a final location survey, then land acquisition and finally the forest and environment clearance before work can actually start. But if all goes well, we will see the first train reaching Nabarangpur in five-six years,” said Majhi.