Railways Minister Mamataa Banerjee's list of West Bengal projects for inclusion in the upcoming railway budget is mostly comprised of schemes that have been accessed as having a hugely negative rate of return (ROR).
Of the total of 75 projects posed for clearance by the Finance Ministry and the Planning Commission, 19 schemes (approximately 25%) are related to West Bengal.
The big ticket projects being pitched for inclusion comprise the ambitious plan to construct a 33-kilometre rail link connecting Dumdum to Garia via Rajerhat at a cost of R1,565 crore. The ROR for this project has been assessed at minus 45%.
The rate of return figures indicate estimated ridership and revenue projections following the implementation of the project.
Railways ministers have justified inclusion of such non-viable projects on grounds that these are "socially desirable", but past experience has shown that such projects have always been short on funds.
"Apart from the political symbolism attached to such announcements, the inclusion of such projects does not cost much as only marginal sums are apportioned for implementation," said Sumant Chak of the Asian Institute of Rail Transport. Sources indicate that among the Bengal projects sought for inclusion in the upcoming budget include the proposed 48-kilometre rail link connecting Joka to Diamond Harbour with link line from Bakrahat to Pujali.
This project, costing R353 crore, has been assessed as having a minus 20% rate of return.
Similarly, the proposed 14-kilometre circular rail link connecting Tala-Principghat to Majerhat has a rate of return of minus 28%.
Costing R50 crore, the proposed 16-kilometre rail link from Chowrigacha to Kandi not only has a minus 24% ROR, but the Railways - after completing the survey work in 2004-05 - had also decided to shelve the project.
"Rail finances are in a mess. Particularly at this juncture, the inclusion of projects that do not bring proper return cannot be justified. Politicians only do such things for votes" and this 'tamasha' (drama) has been going on", retired railway official Satish Vaish said.
Of the eleven projects worth R10, 167 crore that have so far been cleared for inclusion in the upcoming budget, none relates to the Railways Minister's home state.