Residents of Chhattisgarh's Antagarh town, a Naxal-affected area which did not have rail connectivity till now, will soon have access to trains on the newly laid railway line there and this would also allow transportation of iron ore from mines in the region. The project, which is a joint venture between the Chhattisgarh government, National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC), Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) and the Railways, will open doors for economic development in the Bastar region, a railway official said.
As part of the 235-km-long Dallirajhara-Rowghat-Jagdalpur railway project, the Antagarh nagar panchayat in Kanker district has now been connected to rail route, he said.
Under the first phase of the project, a 95-km-long track is being laid from Dallirajhara to Rowghat and work has been completed on 59-km stretch till Antagarh, Raipur railway
division's senior publicity inspector Shiv Prasad told PTI.
The 42-km track on this route up to Kevti village has already been commissioned for passenger train traffic and the service will soon be expanded up to Antagarh, which is 17
km away from Kevti, he said.
On August 21, a successful trial run of a railway diesel engine at the speed of 100 to 110 km per hour was carried out from Kevti to Antagarh in the presence of the railway safety commissioner, who was conducting an inspection of the rail line that day, he said.
On completion of the project, Narayanpur and Kondagaon districts of Bastar region will be directly connected to Raipur via Durg and other major cities of the state through rail route, he said. This railway project would allow transportation of iron ore from the Rowghat mines, located in the Maoist stronghold of north Bastar. It will also ensure transportation facility for people living in the Naxal hotbed.
According to police, Maoists have been opposing this project since its inception, fearing that construction of the rail route will speed up development works in Bastar, thereby
uprooting them from the region. Two battalions of the Sashtra Seema Bal (SSB) have been deployed exclusively for guarding the project since 2016. "We have not only been fighting the Naxal menace to safeguard the project, but have also won the confidence of villagers during four years of our deployment, said Awaneesh Chaubey, Deputy Commandant of SSBs 28th battalion stationed in Antagarh.
"Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) planted by Naxals pose a huge challenge in the area. We have recovered several IEDs in the last four years from the route adopted by
us during patrolling or near construction areas, he said. Three civilians were killed in September last year, when a diesel tanker which was engaged in railway track laying
work was blown up by Naxals with an IED. Meanwhile, residents of Antagarh have hailed the project, saying it means a lot to them. But some locals also sought adequate facilities for families affected by the project.
"The rail line is being mainly laid to extract iron ore and other minerals from the area. We will only consider it as a development for us when we will be a part of it," Antagarh resident Anil Chandel said. Villagers whose lands were acquired for the project were assured they will be provided employment opportunities in the Railways and Bhilai Steel Plant (BSP) of SAIL, but several affected families are still waiting for it, he claimed.
The project involves extensive deforestation due to which several people, like minor forest produce collectors, are indirectly affected. Therefore, steps should be taken
for their welfare, he added.