The 3,342-km Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC) was first conceptualised in 2006 under the UPA government. In 2007, it had a cabinet approval to begin work. By 2008, it had a soft loan approved by the Japan International Cooperation Agency. However, the work on the DFC began only in 2010. It also missed its first and second deadline. Now, Indian Railways has set April 2020 for commissioning of the project.
The DFC was conceived to reduce travel time between Delhi and Mumbai and Delhi and Howrah, the two most congested rail routes in the country, for both passengers and goods. The Narendra Modi government had pinned its hopes on the DFC when it came to power in 2014 and desperately wanted to commission it before the 2019 general elections, but it couldn't.
CNBC-TV18 spoke to Vivek Srivastava, director operations & business development at Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India (DFCCIL); Gajendra Haldea, an infrastructure expert and Vivek Sahai, former chairman of Railway Board, to understand whether it was the inefficiency of the Indian Railways, which caused the delays or was it circumstances beyond control.
Srivastava said, "In 2010, the first tranche of the World Bank loan was released and subsequently it went to 2013. So, there was no way it could have been completed by 2013. Acquiring the land was a major issue. More than 10,000 hectares of the land had to be acquired by DFCCIL, which it has done successfully and now more than 90 percent of the land of the entire project is with us. There were more than 3 lakh people that were affected and they had to be compensated etc, all these things have their own way of settling down."
Haldea said, "This is a mega project and we can laud the ministry of railways and the corporation for finally getting near completion. It is a very big task and this will bring a lot of improvement to freight movement in the country. Having said that, I think this is a project which should be used as a case study to bring out the serious flaws in the organisational structure, the processes and the underlying philosophy which governs the functioning of our railway system. Ours is probably the only major railway in the world which is run by a government department, not even by a corporate entity. The task force which I was a member of was set up way back in 2005-2006 as a result of the decision of the committee on infrastructure chaired by the then Prime Minister. I remember we tried to suggest a new structure, a new model and a new competitive method of functioning. We also thought that there will be a turnkey mode of construction, which will lead to much faster delivery and it was expected that by 2013 or so the project construction should get completed. However, a host of delays in decision making, number of recommendations of the task force and cabinet decisions having not been observed in letter and spirit has led to this delay."
Sahai said, "Land acquisition got affected due to a new Land Acquisition Act, which came in 2013. Railways should have closed most of the land acquisition process, which had already been completed in 2011-2012 and should have closed it and not reopened it. However, railways decided to reopen it in 2014 and that is why 11,600 hectares of land is not fully available with the railways. So, I do not know when this project will get completed."