Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee’s grand plan to set up a third rail coach factory in her poll-bound state of West Bengal has suffered a jolt.
The steel ministry has stonewalled the proposed agreement for a joint venture between Rail India Technical and Economic Services (RITES), a subsidiary of Indian Railways, and Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) to set up the factory on the surplus land owned by SAIL at Kulti in Burdwan district.
Steel Minister Virbhadra Singh is understood to have objected to the agreement in a file noting.
Singh is learnt to have posed a query on what SAIL would gain from providing its prime land to the railways, except earning “some amount of rent”.
The minister has suggested it would be better for the railways, which owns “huge tracts of land in West Bengal”, to use its own resources for the ambitious project.
The setback is a double whammy for Banerjee who — after announcing plans to build the “world’s best rail coach factory” at the abandoned site of the Tata Nano car factory at Singur — had had to beat a quiet retreat after the West Bengal government offered to provide land.
With Banerjee’s politics revolving around popular passions concerning land acquisition, she had apparently pinned hopes on building the rail factory on land provided by SAIL — which is geographically close to Chittaranjan Loco Works in Bengal.
Banerjee, who had used the land acquisition issue to turn the tide against the Left Front government, was hoping to showcase this factory as an employment-generator in the run-up to the Bengal polls. And she had wanted to do this without entering the mess of actually having to acquire land. By getting the land from SAIL, she would have avoided that headache.
“Banerjee is feeling the heat of her own destructive politics on land. The present mess is a result of her attempts to project a larger-than-life image of herself — ahead of the 2011 assembly elections”, said CPM central committee member Mohammad Salim, a senior leader of the ruling Left Front in the state.
The steel minister was tight-lipped. “I discuss inter-ministry issues only in cabinet meetings and with the Prime Minister separately when I feel his intervention is required. I also take up matters with my cabinet colleagues, but not publicly,” Singh told HT.
Last month, SAIL announced its plans to enter into a pact with RITES. “We will sign the agreement next month for the joint venture unit with RITES,” SAIL chairman C.S. Verma had said on August 18.