At present there are 16 railway zones in India. Kerala belongs to the fifth largest of them all, the Southern Railway Zone, headquartered at Chennai. The Southern Railway Zone comprises of the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu and has six divisions – Chennai, Trichy, Madurai, Palakkad, Salem, and Trivandrum. The Trivandrum division with the Trivandrum Central Railway Station consists of the second busiest rail terminal in the Southern Railway Zone and is also the most profit making division for the South Zone.
The Palakkad Railway Division used to be one of the biggest divisions of the southern railway. But since then, the divisions of Trivandrum and Salem have been carved out of it, drastically lessening its size. The long-standing demand of the state is to have a railway zone of its own, headquartered at Trivandrum. The formation of a zone with its headquarters within the state would go great lengths in speeding up the railway developmental projects of the state.
However, the job is easier said than done. The proposal from the state was to create a west coast zone extending from Kanyakumari up to Madgaon in the Konkan region. The creation of such a railway zone will see that the funds allocated in the budget are directly received by the state to be utilised for its developmental works. Currently, the state lies at the mercy of the authorities in Chennai to receive its share of funds and the diversion of the money to other projects outside the state is not so uncommon either.
The creation of a zone for Kerala involves regions outside Kerala and these regions have the same issues about joining a separate Kerala zone, as the state does, in being part of a zone headquartered someplace else. Tamil Nadu has been extra vigilant in this regard. To prevent loss of their interest to a possible zone for Kerala, they tactically created a Salem division by cutting the Palakkad Division almost into half. Now the demand is being made to get the railway stations of Nagercoil and Kanyakumari excluded from the Trivandrum division, citing the neglect of these stations under the division.
In Karnataka, moves are on to separate Mangalore from the Palakkad division and have it joined with the Mysore division to prevent being part of the Kerala zone. At this rate at which the kilometers of tracks and the number of stations that come under the two divisions in Kerala are dwindling, the probability of the divisions of Palakkad and Trivandrum being merged together to have the entire state restricted inside a division is now very real.
Kerala is the only state holding a major position in the railway map of India, without a zone headquartered within its boundaries. The geographical location of the state being tucked away to a side in the south-western portion of the Indian peninsula is one of the prime reasons for the state not receiving a zone for itself. Just as much as other states want no part of their regions getting lost to a Kerala zone, the present Southern Railway Zone, with its head-office at Chennai, does not want to lose the prospective revenue generation through goods movement from the two major ports of Mangalore and Kochi .
The state has always been at the receiving end of the lobbying by other states since they have better representation at the central ministry. But the blame is not all theirs. The indifference on the part of the representatives from Kerala in taking up stiff measures for gaining an increased share for the state in the annual railway budget is just as much to be blamed as the others.
The Palakkad coach factory, whose construction was inaugurated on February this year by the then Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi, is lagging at a snail's pace. The construction of the Sabari rail, which was announced almost fifteen years ago, is yet to take off. With the existing lines and stations getting over-saturated with traffic, the state is losing numerous trains to other states for not being able to accommodate the additional ones.
It is true that for a more fruitful realization of the state's demand regarding railways, the formation of a zone headquartered at Trivandrum is essential. But the odds stacked against it are simply overwhelming – politically, economically, strategically and geographically. The long-standing dream of Kerala’s railway community is fated to remain merely a dream for now.
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