Mamata Banerjee on Friday cast doubts over claims relating to profits and performance of the Indian Railways during the tenure of her predecessor Lalu Prasad and promised to reassess the numbers.
“Railways will come out with a white paper indicating its present organisation, operation and financial status based on its performance in the last five years,” she said in her budget speech.
<b1>The record profit posted by the railways during Prasad’s tenure — Rs 90,000 crore during 2004-09 — was one of the most publicised success stories of the last United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and was even taken up as a case study by some of the world top business schools. But Banerjee hinted that her predecessor could have juggled the finances.
"Unrealistically high targets set in the interim budget [presented by Prasad] were not sustainable and warrant a mid-course correction,” she said. “In 2008-09, freight loading fell short of the target and revenues expected from commercial utilisation of surplus railway land also did not materialise.”
“Banerjee is suffering from some sort of complex,” Prasad hit back. “Let her bring out a white paper, I am not bothered.”
Banerjee’s take on Prasad deflated the UPA claim that its second term would be a continuum of its first.
She chose not to make any reference to the railways’ achievements during the UPA’s last tenure. She did not mention Garib Rath trains, Prasad’s pet project, or modernisation. Instead, she spoke of her earlier stint as rail minister in the NDA. “I announced in 2001-02 a plan to lay an optical fibre network along tracks for commercial utilisation. After eight years, I find little progress,” she said.
Banerjee also questioned the profit-making thrust of Prasad’s policies. “Should railway projects be measured only on the scale of economic viability? Are the fruits of development to be restricted only to the privileged few,” she asked.
Later, however, she sought to underplay the harsh references. “I respect Laluji. We’re like brother and sister.”