When Mamata Banerjee as railway minister constituted several expert committees packed with painters, poets and academics who sided with the Trinamool Congress in its battle with the Left, there was widespread criticism of the move. All that is set to end with the new junior railway minister Adhir Chowdhury making it clear that the railways do not have the money for such ceremonial posts.
“The railways is not a dumping ground for painters and poets. The ministry is facing an acute shortage of funds, thanks to the leaders who led the ministry earlier. There is no sense in maintaining such ceremonial posts just to reward or please some people,” Chowdhury said on Monday.
During her stint with the railways (May 2009-May 2011), chief minister Mamata Banerjee constituted a number of railway committees including the railway passenger amenities committee (RPAC) and railway heritage and culture committee (RHCC). The RPAC is headed by painter Shuvaprasanna and has fellow painter Samir Aich, singer Pallab Kirtaniya and film directors Gautam Ghose and Haranath Chakraborty as members.
The RHCC is chaired by theatre personality Saoli Mitra and has poet Joy Goswami and thespians Bibhas Chakraborty and Arpita Ghosh as members.
“Maintaining the railways is a huge task. Will these intellectuals draw pictures, write poems or perform plays inside railway coaches? Only those who have proper knowledge of the railways should be allowed to work here. This is not the proper forum to rehabilitate civil society members close to leaders who held the ministry earlier,” Chowdhury added.
Financial benefits attached with posts in these committees include a monthly honorarium of Rs. 50,000 to the head of the committee and Rs. 25,000 to other members. Added to it are other perks including free travel, food and lodging facilities while on official tours.
“I will step down from the committee myself. We have never begged to the railway ministry to accommodate us. It was the Congress government at the Centre which took the decision Now with such statements they are contradicting their own actions,” artist Samir Aich told HT when he was informed of Chowdhury’s comments.
“I have already resigned on October 1. I will not comment on whether the present railway ministry would want to keep the expert committees intact or decide to dismantle them,” said theatre personality Saoli Mitra.
Demands for resignation of expert committee members have been growing louder since Trinamool quit the UPA-II ministry. Even the Left Front had demanded that the members step down from their posts. The intellectuals though maintained that they would not be stepping down till completion of their tenure.