Mamata calls Lalu bluff on railway surplus
Mamata Banerjee on
Thursday rubbed in the fact that railway surplus stood at Rs 8,361 crore as
against her predecessor Lalu Prasad's claim of Rs 90,000 crore as the tiff
between the current and previous occupant of Rail Bhavan simmered as Lok Sabha
budget on Thursday.
She also took note of populist pitches over railway exams leading to anger
against "outsiders" from time to time and promised a review of Railway
Recruitment Board procedures, with a possible 50% quota for locals. She backed
"regional aspirations", suggesting exams could be held in regional languages.
A combative railway minister rubbished the criticism of `Duronto' (high speed)
and `world class stations' as lip service, saying that two of the new non-stop
trains would begin within a month while double-decker trains would materialise
in a year.
Banerjee asserted that she would ensure that budget commitments were fulfilled
in the budget year. In Rajya Sabha, she was categorical about not privatising
railways nor uprooting illegal occupants of railway land. "Why were they not
stopped when they occupied the land," she asked.
Without naming CPM, but making a political point, Mamata said she had no
intention of evicting people. Her unabashed populism in giving up claim to
encroached land -- which is government property -- was of a piece with more
concessions on tickets to police medal awardees and cultural artistes.
In her typical manner, she pointed out that she could not satisfy all demands as
there was a shortage of coaches and rakes. Dwelling on the economic slowdown,
she said, "In the good times there is
money, in the bad times it is not there."
In Rajya Sabha she said, "Let agriculture and industry smile" as CPM leaders
Sitaram Yechury and Brinda Karat sat through quietly. After an exhaustive
debate, marked by BJP's focus on Banerjee stepping into non-core sectors and
JD(U)'s spotlight on `white paper' to "expose" Lalu Prasad, a confident Mamata
said she was not targetting any former minister but only stating the factual
position that railways was left with only Rs 8,361 crore after paying the pay
commission burden and
dividend to finance ministry.
She was quick to point to an anxious RJD chief to say, "Laluji I did not speak
Conveying that she intended to bring in focussed improvement on all fronts,
Banerjee announced that monitoring committees headed by Member (traffic) of
Railway Board would look after improvement of services like punctuality,
amenities and safety.
Banerjee said the department will carry out catering in Rajdhani and Shatabdi
trains and no outsourcing would be allowed.
She included several more stations in the list of those to be developed as model
and world class ones, responding to demands by MPs from all parties who
criticised her for focussing on West Bengal.
Banerjee announced setting up of an expert panel, headed by FICCI secretary
general Amit Mitra to prepare a business plan for toning up the railways. It
will have representatives of chambers besides member (traffic) and member
Banerjee referred to sale of burgers at many stations, which poor people cannot
afford and said that `janta khana' would be served by railways.
Making a strong case for public private partnership, Mamata said it was the only
way out. She said global tenders would be floated for development of select
stations as world class. She said funds available with railways were not enough
as they would be used to improve amenities.
On criticism by BJP on her decision on optic fibre cabling, Banerjee said she
had initiated the project while she was minister in the NDA government. "You did
not oppose it then,"