For a state that was used to the bounty of successive Trinamool railway ministers, Rail Budget 2013-2014, presented by the Congress’s Pawan Kumar Bansal, came as a shock. Apart from proposing huge cuts in allocation for Metro rail projects in the city — many of which are lying unfinished — Bengal got very little by way of new projects or new trains.
What’s more, several ambitious schemes announced by Mamata Banerjee when she was railway minister, such as power plants, rail component manufacturing units, stadiums and hospitals, did not even find a mention in Bansal’s budget speech.
The only consolation for Bengal was a tower guard repairing workshop in Berhampore, home of MoS railways Adhir Chowdhury, 4 express trains, 1 passenger train and a few others.
“There is no reason for Bengal to feel deprived. The people know that Mamata Banerjee did not earmark rail funds for projects but only foundation stones,” said Pradip Bhattacharya, Pradesh Congress chief, defending the budget.
Trinamool Congress MPs in Parliament repeatedly raised their voices during Bansal’s speech. Later, addressing a press conference, party MP Sougata Roy told reporters, “This budget is mindless and directionless. It was done with a vengeance to spite Bengal. The Metro, the pride of Bengal, has been destroyed. Most new projects will now have to be scrapped.”
Bansal responded to the criticism at a post-budget press conference by taking a dig at previous Trinamool railway ministers. “I agree that 98% of the projects did not go to Bengal,” he said.
Three years ago, Banerjee, as railway minister, announced a dozen-odd projects across the state entailing investments worth thousands of crores. The list included seemingly unlikely projects such as a power plant in Adra (Purulia) and railway industrial park in Jellingham.
Others included a railway axle factory in Jalpaiguri, wagon and coach component factories in Kulti, Budge Budge, Kharagpur, Dankuni, Haldia and Kanchrapara. Mamata had also nounced around 15 railway hospitals in the state. Work on most of the projects is yet to begin.
On Tuesday, the Metro services took the biggest hit —- allocations for four new metro routes were slashed up to 98%. Funds for the BBD -Joka, NoaparaBarasat, New Garia-Airport and Barrackpore-Dakshineswar routes were slashed by R705 crore, R880 crore, R800 crore and R592 crore respectively, thus virtually putting putting these projects on the backburner.
However, R100 crore has been earmarked for the East-West Metro corridor and an equal amount for the Dum Dum-Noapara Metro extension work.
In a sense, Tuesday’s announcements were not entirely unexpected. After Chowdhury became the junior railway minister, “half minister” according to Sougata Roy, he had dropped enough hints that a majority of the projects announced by his predecessors were under the scanner.
“The railway budget would announce projects based on viability,” Chowdhury said on Monday, hinting that most of the projects announced by Mamata Banerjee could be scrapped.
On the short list of Bengal’s gains were 18 new suburban trains from Kolkata. Two new air-conditioned trains, Howrah-Chennai AC Express (bi-weekly) and Howrah-New Jalpaiguri AC Express (weekly), were proposed in Tuesday’s budget.
Besides, a number of trains were extended, including the New Jalpaiguri-Ajmer Express that was extended up to Udaipur, Ajmer-Kishanganj Express up to New Jalpaiguri, Kolkata-Behrampore MEMU up to Lalgola, Sealdah-Varanasi Express up to Delhi and Krishnanagar-Behrampore MEMU up to Cossimbazar.
The Howrah-Malda Express would henceforth run on all seven days instead of six days at present. Bansal also announced a skill development centre for ‘railway related trades’ in Murshidabad town.