I love my state and did nothing wrong by sanctioning projects for Bengal. My state was deprived for long, but I have been fair to all states,” said railway minister and Trinamool chief Mamataa Banerjee to a television channel on Friday just after her speech in Parliament.
In the election year, Banerjee announced a string of projects for West Bengal — from a software excellence park in Darjeeling in the north to a railway industrial complex in Nandigram in the south.
Of the 56 new express trains announced, more than 20 originate in Bengal. Some other items on the bonanza list were 50 local trains, expanding Kolkata Metro, an industrial complex, and a metro railway coach factory at Singur.
Some announcements had political overtones: a non-stop train from Howrah to Burdwan, a traditional CPM belt, and also a daily express train to Bolpur, another Left citadel.
The Left, however, was scathing in criticism.
Left Front chairman Biman Bose said: “It is very sad that the Prime Minister and finance minister heard and digested all the lies told by Banerjee and allowed her to use Parliament as a stage to fool people. The budget has been prepared with an eye on the elections.”
Bengal Congress chief Manas Bhuyian said: “I thank the railways minister on behalf of the WBPCC ... She has taken some important decisions for the development of the state.”
Industry was balanced in its assessment.
Said Pawan K Ruia, chairman, Dunlop, Jessop: “She is thinking on a global scale, which I believe is a first in the railway ministry. The good news for wagon and rake manufacturers will be the huge expansion the railway minister has proposed in the suburban rail lines.”
Meanwhile, Tarak Kar, who stays close to Banerjee’s residence, is waiting anxiously for her to come to her south Kolkata base. He has ordered a giant-size garland to receive her.
People in the locality gathered at a club and cheered each time Banerjee announced new projects for West Bengal. HTC
Despite largess TN unhappy
Railway minister Mamataa Banerjee on Friday announced three express and two duronto (non-stop) trains for Tamil Nadu and extended the length that some current trains cover, apart from nine new suburban services for the Chennai city train service.
Presenting the railway budget, she said the expansion of the Perambur integral coach factory (ICF), announced in last year, would be carried out soon.
She also announced a special tourist train, Janam Bhoomi Gaurav, to cover places such as Chennai, Puducherry, Madurai and Kanniyakumari — places of historical importance in the state.
The political class was not enthused much.AIADMK general secretary J Jayalalithaa said Mamataa Banerjee’s focus on West Bengal with the assembly elections on her mind was nothing but an instance of a national resource being hijacked to serve local political ends. Predictably, she has announced major projects for Nandigram and Singur, where she had launched a successful battle against the Bengal government’s land acquisition some years ago, Jayalalithaa said the rail budget was pro-people to the extent that there was no hike in passenger fares or freight rates.
MDMK general secretary Vaiko said, “Last time too doubling tracks within Tamil Nadu was promised but not done; this time, barring the announcement of a few trains, nothing substantial has been done for ... Tamil Nadu. Like Chennai, people in Coimbatore and Madurai were hoping for electric trains, but have been disappointed. ” The street is not overly ecstatic, either.
Civil rights activist M Ramadoss said the minister ought to have concentrated on improving passenger amenities, safety aspects and cleanliness of the services.
Said R Ragunathan, a retired insurance employee: “Had she announced a major crackdown on touts at reservation centres, she would have done us a great service. It is extremely difficult to get reservation even if one went well in advance.”
55-year-old promise fulfiled
Kerala finally got in this year’s rail budget what was promised 55 years ago — the Thalasserry-Mysore line. This line connects Kerala with Karnataka and touches Coorg. Of the 68 new trains announced, Kerala got 12, and out of the four passenger terminals, it got two (Kottayam and Nemom in Thiruvananthapuram).
For track doubling, electrification and other infrastructural work, enough funds have been allocated. Besides, surveys would be conducted for five new rail projects including the Thalasserry-Mysore line.
Banerjee has also assured that enough funds would be allocated to the Palakkad coach factory and Cherthala wagon repair unit, announced in last year’s budget.
Besides renewing the pending Sabari project connecting Sabarimala, eight stations would be renovated.
Chief minister VS Achuthanandan said: “Our main demand for a railway zone wasn’t met.”
Former railways minister and BJP leader O Rajagopal said, “It is a populist budget... Sops are many but how can you mobilise funds for this.”
But former CM Oommen Chandy termed it the best rail budget in recent times.“I am really happy the minister has shown some ‘mamata’ (care) towards the state.”
Assam gets just one express
Even in an election year, just one daily express train has been announced for Assam.
Apart from this, the weekly Kanniyakumari Express, started to mark the 150th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda, will run from Dibrugarh to Thiruvananthapuram. And the Kavi Guru Express is meant to go from Guwahati to Jaipur.
The tri-weekly Rajya Rani Express from Silghat to Dhubri will touch Guwahati.
Assam BJP president Ranjit Dutta said: “She tabled the budget keeping in mind the assembly elections in her home state.... The budget has disappointed the people of Assam. The minister had announced just three new trains from Assam. We have many demands before the ministry. We need workshops that can generate employment.”
Dutta is surprised that no proposal was made for the completion of the Bogibeel railway bridge project on the Brahmaputra in Dibrugarh. The foundation stone for the bridge was laid in 2002 but even half the work has not been completed.
Bani Das, owner of a tea stall at Guwahati railway station, said: “There was no proposal for the development of Guwahati railway station, which is the most important railway communication hub for the entire northeastern region.”