Newly appointed Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee on Tuesday took charge of her ministry in Kolkata, almost 1,500 km away from the national capital. This is, perhaps, the first time a Union minister has taken charge of a ministry outside Delhi.
She also announced several railway projects across the country.
However, she did not have to sign any official papers. “After the prime minister allocates a ministry, no further formality is required,” she said.
S.S. Khurana, chairman of the Railway Board, who rushed to the city in the morning along with other senior railway officials, briefed her for the first time on train movements across the country.
Anticipating criticism that her move would be interpreted as a signal that she is ‘a railway minister for West Bengal’, Banerjee said: “I can start my work from anywhere. Many people have died in Cyclone Aila. So, I have to go to the affected areas to help the people.”
To drive home the point that she was determined to serve the entire country, and also to buttress her pro-poor image, she announced a monthly Special Railway Pass that will allow unorganised sector workers earning up to Rs 500 per month 100-km travel for Rs 20.
She also announced that the Eastern Railway Freight Corridor — a dedicated high-speed line for goods trains — would be completed ahead of schedule. But she declined to set a time frame.
She added that the corridor would benefit five states – Delhi, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal – and boost the coal, steel and other industries, spur economic growth and generate employment.
But, of course, she did have a gift for West Bengal. Banerjee said the thrice-a-week Howrah-Digha Express would start operations within a month and promised that this train would run daily in the near future.