Railway minister Suresh Prabhu’s instruction to the general managers of each zone to hold pre-budget consultations with MPs has not gone down well with opposition parties, prompting the ministry’s parliamentary standing committee chairman Dinesh Trivedi to say the “contentious question” will be taken up at its next meeting on February 8.
Signalling trouble ahead of the rail budget, to be presented in the last week of February, Trinamool Congress MP and former rail minister Trivedi said, “It is a mindless idea and seems a clear ploy on the part of the railway minister to shirk responsibility. The suggestion is akin to a finance minister asking MPs to talk directly to the RBI and other banks. In this case, why have a minister at all? Can something be more ridiculous?”
“Can the GMs answer the questions of MPs in Parliament as well,” he asked.
Reports suggested several MPs were offended at receiving invitations to hold consultations with the general managers, and that at one such meeting with the Northern Railway GM, only a fourth of the invited parliamentarians turned up.
Similarly, a meeting with the South Central Railway GM saw half of the 32 invited MPs stay away.
Calling the initiative a “gimmick that should be avoided”, Adheer Ranjan Chowdhury, Congress MP and former minister of state for railways, said asking the GMs to meet MP delegations would keep them away from their core responsibility of operating the rail networks.
“The GMs are like postmen, referring everything to the railway board. Such meetings are a waste of time,” added YV Subba Reddy of the YSR Congress, who attended one such meeting recently.
But a senior official in the railway ministry said the GMs were financially and administratively empowered to settle several issues on their own. The new process, the official clarified, was initiated with the objective of cutting paperwork and saving time.
It got the backing of one MP, Bhartruhari Mahtab of the Biju Janata Dal, who agreed that it would save a lot of time. “There is no reason for MPs to take umbrage. They can meet the railway minister whenever they want.”