Amidst trees growing out of crevices of dilapidated buildings and rusty skeletons of abandoned vehicles lying by the roadside, the newly-built rail coach factory strikes as an incongruity of sorts.
The good news is that the factory at Budge Budge — a crowded and bustling township 30 km off Kolkata —is ready to start production.
The bad one is that this facility has already been appended by policy-makers to the long list of “failed” rail projects.
This factory, and many more similar projects elsewhere, are classic examples of the Indian Railways taking the principle of “social responsibility” to extreme levels. And if there is one area that railway minister Suresh Prabhu needs to fix, the issue of plugging losses on account of bad public spending is certainly one.
Investigations by HT reveal how the railways, the country’s largest employer, have been bleeding due to lopsided plans and policies.
For inexplicable reasons, the Budge Budge factory was conceived as an ancillary unit of the rail coach factory at Kapurthala — approximately 1,900 km away in Punjab.
Since the small quantity of coach frames manufactured at the unit will not qualify for rail transportation (only bulk bookings of wagons are permitted), the plan is to send these by trucks to Kapurthala.
To avoid this expensive proposition, railway officials are now considering possibilities of sending the frames to nearby coach maintenance units at Lilua, Patna or Jamalpur to be used as “spares” — a polite manner of saying that these would be cannibalised.
West Bengal has an abundance of such failed projects. At Majerhat in Kolkata’s outskirts stands an imposing and abandoned structure that had been conceived by previous railway minister and current West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee as a nursing college attached to the railway hospital at Sealdah — 50 km away.
The premises turn into lovers’ spot during the day and a den for drug addicts during the night.
Knee-high weed now covers an area that was meant to have been the lawn, while cow and buffalo dung lays spattered on the floors of what was designed as seminar halls. Graffiti has sprung up on walls.
Local boys play cricket in the area of the entrance lobby, having left tell-tale evidence of their batting prowess in the smashed glass panes at the entrance lobby.
“The nursing college idea is off. We are thinking about converting it into a sports complex,” a senior rail official said.
Most of the railways ministers in the past have opted for projects that have neither benefitted their states nor the railways or the travelling public, but it was during the Trinamool Congress (TMC) hold of the rail portfolio (2010-12) that things appeared to have spiralled out of control.The wagon component manufacturing unit at Jellingham announced by Banerjee as railway minister has been inaugurated, but the unit remains dysfunctional because the location does not have a railway track yet. At another location short-listed by the railways for upgrade as an ‘adarsh station’ (model station) during the period, it was subsequently discovered that the place had no railway station at all.