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Creation of new zones — Rly unions, officers' body to file petition

Hema Ramakrishnan

NEW DELHI, Aug 4

LESS than a week after the Union Cabinet endorsed the move to bifurcate the Eastern Railway zone, two railway unions and the Federation of Railway Officers' Association have decided to file a public interest litigation (PIL) contesting the decision.

Two unions — the All India Railwaymen's Federation (AIRF) and the National Federation of Indian Railways (NFIR) — will file a PIL in the Delhi High Court jointly with the FROA challenging the Government's decision to create seven new zones. The list of petitioners will also include a few former Railway Board members, said official sources.

Some of the former Railway Board chiefs and members had earlier written a letter to the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, opposing the creation of seven new zones, saying that it would only add to the financial burden of the Railways.

According to a former member of the Railway Board, the move would go against the Railway Ministry's own initiative of cutting down flab. It would, instead, entail fresh recruitments and add to staff costs.

The Railway Minister, Mr Nitish Kumar, had, on June 14 this year, announced the creation of two new railway zones — East-Central Railways based at Hajipur (Bihar) and North-Western Railways in Jaipur (Rajasthan). These zones have been carved out of the Eastern Railways headquartered at Kolkata and the Western Railways headquartered at Mumbai respectively and will become operational from October 1.

The decision to bifurcate the Eastern Railway zone met with stiff opposition from West Bengal, considering that it involved the hiving off of two money-spinning divisions — Dhanbad and Mughalsarai — to the new East-Central Railways.

Ignoring protests from West Bengal, Mr Nitish Kumar went ahead to notify the formation of five additional zones and eight new divisions. The five new zones, in addition to the current 15 (including the two newly created zones), will become operational by April 1, 2003.

The Railway Minister's contention was that the Government was only implementing the decision taken in 1996 by the then United Front Government. He held that the creation of new zones would improve operational efficiency of the Railways. The Union Cabinet, which discussed the issue, adhered to the 1996 decision on grounds of merit.

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