NAGPUR: The Indian Railways was nationalized six decades ago but there remains a 190km narrow gauge section where it still hauls a British-time train with a private firm of the same era having a stake in the earnings out of the operations. The Shakuntala Express, a romantic name by all accounts, is a train not many in the country are aware of. But, in Yavatmal and Achalpur (Amravati district), it is the lifeline for villagers and also a political issue to be kept ‘alive’.
It was an era of private railroad companies in 1910 when British firm Killick-Nixon floated the Central Province Railway Company (CPRC), a joint venture with British Indian government for laying railway tracks to be used for transporting cotton from Vidarbha, and finally to Manchester in England. The track had trains running on it by 1916 and soon it was being used to ferry passengers too. The trains were run by Great Indian Peninsular Railway (GIPR) which operated in Central India. The deal continued even after the GIPR became Central Railway post independence. In the entire affair Killick-Nixon was the agent for its own group company.
Today the track falls under the Bhusawal division of Central Railway. However, none in the railways as well as Killick-Nixon have a clue why the track has not been nationalized even now. “All the British companies were taken over like GIPR became Central Railway, East India Railway Company was made Eastern Railway and so on. But the erstwhile companies’ contract with private firms like CPRC continued. We don’t know what the decision-makers thought at that time. Maybe nobody bothered as the affairs were running smoothly then,” said an official.
As per the pact, the Railways are supposed to shell out 55% of the revenue from running the Shakuntala Express to CPRC. Every 10 years, railways have a chance to exercise the option of taking over the line. The next opportunity will come in 2016. All the Indian Railways may have to pay for buying the line is Rs 2.5 to Rs 3 crore according to CPRC officials.
For the last 10 years, Central Railway hasn’t paid its share of revenue and been adjusting the amount against minor repairs it has undertaken on the tracks. The Railways have also demanded another sum of Rs 18.72 crore for major repair works from the CPRC. The latter is reluctant and it has resulted in a roadblock.
Generations of politicians have been demanding that the track be nationalized and converted into a broad gauge line. They are under an impression that Killick-Nixon is still based out of UK. Even many railway officials in Yavatmal or Murtijapur think so. An inquiry by RailNews revealed that it is very much an Indian company now. Both, Killick-Nixon and CPRC are listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE). The ownership was transferred to Indian promoters after the British left the country. Killick and Nixon has TB Ruia as the chairman. His name had cropped up in the 1992 Harshad Mehta securities scam.
Today, CPRC is practically a non-functional company though alive and kicking on paper. Its company secretary SR Himmady told: “CPRC did make an offer to the Railways to take over the track for which the company hopes to get Rs 2 to 3 crore as per the contract. But there has been no response.”
Railways, on the other hand, do not seem keen to run the train due to the losses it is incurring currently. A senior official in the Bhusawal division said left to the Railways, it would have stopped the train. But there was political pressure against it.
Member of the Railway Board SK Jain told that the contract specified that major expenses beyond Rs 10,000 have to be borne by the company. Since it has not, the amount due to CPRC has been adjusted against the cost incurred by Railways on repairs. The dispute is in court.
“But, not withstanding the litigation, the Railways have the right to take over the track,” said Jain, and the option is being considered. “If the 10-yearly option is exercised, the contract calls for payment of 125% of the last three years average revenue. This according to railways comes to around Rs 4 crore. The company pegs it at Rs 3 crore. If taken over before that, around Rs 5 crore may have to be shelled out,” he added.
Sources in the ministry say in both the cases it is a minor amount for the railways. However, there has to be a political decision for that. The matter has been taken up in the Parliament’s petition committee by local MPs, the source added.
“As far as conversion into broad gauge is concerned, it is not a priority for now as the railways would require Rs 1800 crore for it. More than that railways will have to go through the tardy process of forest clearances also,” the source said. Railway employees in the know say that converting the route to broad gauge would reduce the Delhi-Chennai distance by 200 kms.
History of Killick-Nixon Limited
1857 to 1947- On 24th November, 1857, a partnership firm was established by Mr. Charles Killick and Mr. Robert Preston Nixon for the purpose of doing business as “General Merchants and Commission Agents”.
It is debatable whether anyone could have foreseen at that time the significance the name “Killicks” would assume in the annals of Indian industry. It is an amazing saga of industrial progress and fortune. Killick Nixon & Company successfully promoted and fostered an incredible number of commercial, industrial and consumer oriented enterprises. Also, its trading activities grew at the same time. The company built up a considerable business in the import, sale and distribution of products as varied as cement and cement coatings, tarpaulins, insulation and panel boards, aluminium products, etc. The company also handled products made in India. In addition to import and marketing of imported and indigenous products, the company represented reputed foreign concern and shipping companies as sole selling agents and ship owners’ agents.
10 New Railway Companies were floated:The Ahmedabad Prantej Railway Company Ltd. (metre gauge 143 Kms);
Tapti Valley Railway Co. Ltd. (broad gauge 252 Kms);
Ahmedabad Dholka Railway Co. Ltd. (metre gauge 54.5 Kms);
Amritsar Patti Railway Co. Ltd (broad gauge 87.75 Kms);
Central Provinces Railways Co. Ltd. (narrow gauge 227.5 Km.);
Gujarat Railways Co. Ltd. (narrow gauge 136.5 Kms);
Mandra Bhon Railway Co. Ltd. (broad gauge 76.4 Km.);
Sara Siragunj Railway Co. Ltd. (broad gauge 87.75 Kms);
Sialkot Narowal Railway Co. Ltd.(broad gauge 63.4 Kms);
Mymensingh Bhairab Bazar Railway Co. Ltd. (metre gauge 162.5 Kms).
The first of its Textile Mills was acquired, the newly created Kohinoor Mills Co. Ltd
The Bombay Agency of Sir Edward Bates & Sons was amalgamated with the company.
The Central India Mining Company was floated for the purpose of mining manganese ore and later the Shivrajpur Syndicate Ltd. was formed.
The Hingir – Rampur Coal Co. Ltd. was established.
Three public utilities were floated:
– The Ahmedabad Electricity Co. Ltd.
– The Surat Electric Co. Ltd. and
- The Bombay Suburban Electric Supply Ltd.
Thane Electricity Supply Co. Limited was taken over by the Company.
The company acquired A.R. Haseler Limited a reputed firm concerned with the supply of aircraft equipments and spares to the Indian aviation industry and flying clubs.
The Bundi Portland Cement Co. Limited and the Punjab Portland Cement Limited were floated which led to the formation of the Indian Cement Manufactures’ Association, a forerunner of the Cement Marketing Co. Ltd.
Killicks was eventually influential in bringing about the amalgamation of India’s leading cement companies into a giant cement combine – The Associated Cement Companies Ltd. (ACC)-in whose management it played a leading role through its associated company, Cement Agencies Ltd.
This unique arrangement took place in 1936, where three other leading cement manufactures – Tatas, Khataus and Dinshaws- joined hands with Killicks to pool their assets and jointly form ACC as a new public company.
1948- On 1st February, the company became a Limited Company with 98.5% of its shareholders being Indian nationals, in the name of Killick Industries Limited.
Killick Industries Limited became heirs to the high tradition of the old company with such divergent interests as Cotton Textiles, Silk Mills, Electricity Generation and Distribution Undertakings, Manganese Ore and Coal Mines, Railways and a large share in the Corporate Management of the Associated Cement Companies Limited. The Company entered the field of light engineering products and consumer goods, including domestic appliances.
1953- The birth of Killick industrial estate with an area of 67,000 sq mtr. at Chandivli for locating manufacturing plants of the company.
1969- The company decided to restore the old and revered names of original founders by changing its corporate name to Killick Nixon Limited.