Evolution of Land under Indian Railways (Part 2 of 4)

History and Growth

By the time Britishers left India in 1947, the network of Indian Railways was 40,500 miles for first line main track length and 57,000 miles in total track length (Thorner, 1995). To understand the nature of growth of Indian Railways, two eras can be distinctly defined. One, is the colonial era, or the pre-independence era which lead to the formation of the skeletal framework of Indian Railways. And second is the Post-Independence era in which the land was transferred to the Indian government. This era owes to the present-day management of land which is the result of planning and policy formulation by the Ministry of Railways under Government of India. Further elaboration would signify how land was seen through time.

Colonial Period

It was proposed that the Railway introduction would be an attempt to enhance the economies of the two countries symbiotically- India and Great Britain (Thorner, 1951). But the on-ground coming of Railways proved that it catalysed the Industrialization of Britain, while simultaneously restricting the economic growth of India. Industrial Revolution had taken place in England and the British industries needed raw materials and wanted a lucrative market for selling the finished products. India was full of resources and wealth but without proper means of transportation and communication. In order to achieve their goals, it was very much necessary for British industries to develop railway transport in India (Satya , 2008).

Railway Map of 1861


Till the early 1850s, Railways served the purpose of Industrial growth only. It was later in 1953 that the passenger Railway started with subsequent expansion. The primary reason of it being, many companies were set up to take in-charge of regional Railways across the countries so as to connect all the major towns and cities for transporting agricultural produce to the port cities (McAlpin, 1974). This period was informally referred to as the Old Guarantee and Assistance Period of Railway Construction (1849-1869). With due delegation at the Great Hall, it was decided that the Government of India would be protecting the interest of the involved companies against the losses that might arise with the construction, operation and maintenance of the Railways (Thorner, 1951). This was supposed to be practiced through “Share System”, where despite any losses, the companies were eligible for 5 percent return on their investments. Furthermore, there was a provision that the Government would give free land for the construction of station buildings and quarters, and for laying down railway lines. It was a legal binding for putting the land under lease for ninety-nine years. It was to be only after ninety-nine years the entire land would become the Government property. (Priestle, 1912)

The above-mentioned involved companies were the companies that constructed and operated the Railways within various parts of the country. These were the East Indian Railway company, the Great Indian Peninsula Railway Company, the Madras Railway Company and the Bombay-Baroda and Central India Railway company. There were two of the initial experimental lines: One from Calcutta to Burdawan coal fields, managed by East India Railway Company and another from Bombay to Deccan cotton fields, managed by Great Indian Peninsular Company (Sweeney, 2009).  It was after the success of these two lines that the terms were made more stringent for the Government of India that further lead to ruthless exploitation of resources of the country- agricultural produce, forests- timber and non-timber, land and labour (Kerr , 2003).

Railway Map of 1871


Post this, the next phase of Railway development was referred to as the period of State Construction and Ownership (1869-1882). The construction of new lines was transferred to the State owing to the reckless exploitation of land. Government was seen capable to bear the necessary funds and carry out the construction and operation of railways much more economically and efficiently than the companies (Satya , 2008). The first of the old guaranteed railway companies purchased was the East Indian Railway Company in 1879 (Sweeney, 2009).

During the years 1874-1879 India was ravaged by a series of severe and widespread famines. Bombay, Madras and Mysore were strongly affected by the famine. Railways were seen as means in preventing famines. The Afghan campaign of 1878-79 was another event which highlighted the importance of railways for military purpose. While it was accepted that construction and operation of railways by the State gave the best results, the problem was to find the very considerable amount of money needed for this purpose.

Railway Map of 1897


This started the third phase of railway development, which is referred to as the period of modified guarantee system (1882-1924), in which state and quasi state agencies and private companies took part, side by side. Soon after that, various efforts were made to get private companies to build railways without any guarantees, or on limited guarantees. It was said to be more favourable than the old guarantee system and prevented the exploitation of land to a great extent. Vast tracts of land were subsequently cleared, trees were cut and new lines were made.

Starting from 4000 miles in 1868, Railways expended to 10000 miles by 1882, 25000 miles by 1902, 38000 miles by 1924 and 41000 miles by 1929 (Priestle, 1912). With no significant reform for the land by the colonial government and the Share system, the land again continued to be exploited. The companies also started to get hold of the land in large chunks for tree plantation for timber, setting up of brick kilns and housing the construction workers.

Railway Map of 1924


Post-Independence Period

The Government of India became the sole owner of Indian Railways soon after the independence. It was responsible for construction, operation and maintenance for the country. The period saw huge developments in coal mining, extraction of minerals, cotton and jute spinning and weaving, growth of iron and steel industry, high agricultural produce, rise in sugar and paper mills etc. (Roy, 2002).

After independence, a systematic effort has been made for the development of Indian Railways under plan periods (Thorner, 1995). Under first Five Year Plan the thrust was given mainly on rehabilitation of assets and indigenous development of railway equipment through the establishment of various production units by railways themselves. In the second FYP, stress was given on the development and modernization of the Railways in order to meet with the heavy demand of agriculture as well as of industrial production and to face the additional traffic likely to be generated. The third FYP laid provisions to keep rail transport capacity ahead of demand. The main thrust of the fourth FYP had been on the demand of freight and passenger traffic. It was majorly finance in the fifth FYP. It focused on development of rapid transit system in metropolitan cities where phenomenal growth of industry and commerce had taken place. Financial viability and cost reduction were also talked about. The sixth FYP was a rehabilitation plan on account of much needed emphasis on renewals and replacements of the Railway assets. The main objectives of seventh FYP were to meet rail transport needs of urban and rural areas and to provide transport infrastructure necessary for the growth of the economy and accessibility to the remotest backward areas. Eighth FYP was formulated to improve the overall capacity of Indian Railways. It is apparent that initially the Government of India or the Indian Railways did not pay any attention to the underlying land. Its primary goal was to make the best use of the asset while continuously expanding its reach. Though there was a transition regarding the main focus of these plans. Starting with the seventh FYP, the idea of considering railways as a resource was seen, and the necessary objectives were set for its development.

In early 90’s that the problems of urbanization rose and with paucity of Land, most of the vacant land in the cities started getting encroached. There were huge chunks of vacant Railway land that also got encroached. Though it so happens that Railways still hold some of the land that remains vacant till date. Since early 2000’s, the role of this vacant land is being highlighted in various committee meetings and conference proceedings (Satya, 2008). Owing to this, there exists an apex body, Railway Land Development Authority- RLDA, that keeps track of the vacant land and owns the development rights over the concerned land.

Existing Railway Map as of 2010


Currently, Indian Railways owns nearly 4.8 Lakh Ha of land. This is second largest ownership in the country, next to Ministry of Defence. The density is maximum in the northern plains and the southern-peninsular region of the country. Moreover, 10% of the land that it owns lies vacant- which can simply be put to use.

Furthermore, these railways operated under various zones as of now. These zones are 17 in number. These are: 1-Northern, 2-North Eastern, 3-Northeast Frontier, 4-Eastern, 5-South Eastern, 6-South Central, 7-Southern, 8-Central, 9-Western, 10-South Western, 11-North Western, 12-West Central, 13-North Central, 14-South East Central, 15-East Coast, 16-East Central and 17-Konkan Railway.

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