25 Feb : Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee has refuted charges that her budget was “populist or West Bengal-oriented” saying she had kept the interest of the nation in mind and given projects to every region.
Countering CPI(M)’s allegations that she had made Railways bankrupt, she said, “Their government (in West Bengal) is bankrupt. It has Rs two lakh crore debt. Charity begins at home.”
On charges of populism, Banerjee said, “They are opportunist people. If this is pro-people let it be populist. When they know they cannot fight they make all such allegations. We have given projects to entire country including Jammu and Kashmir, Manipur and Assam. Bengal is not outside India.”
She said her opponents were “till yesterday shouting that Railways will not be able to pay dividends. Today you see the magic. Our financial performance is strong. We are suffering only on account of Sixth Pay Commission. Remember almost half of all government employees belong to Railways.”
On the proposed rail coach factory in Singur where protests by Trinamool Congress led to the shifting of the Tata’s Nano project out of the state, she defended the project saying it will require only 100 acres of land whereas Tatas had wanted 1000 acres.
Asked how she could manage the finances without raising fares, she said, “Burdening the passenger is an easy option. But our employees tried hard to raise internal generations and also undertook a series of austerity measures.
Our loadings have gone up. Passenger earnings have also increased and next year there will be stronger growth,” Banerjee said.
She blamed ‘rail-roko’ agitations and disruptions caused by Maoists for the loss in revenue saying Railways have become soft target for all agitations including one by the Gujjars in Rajasthan.
“But law and order is not in our hand. It is with the state government,” she said when asked about the train hijack by Maoists last year on the West Bengal-Jharkhand border.
She also referred to the problem in coal loadings in Karnataka and Orissa which caused a loss of Rs 2000 crore.
On PPP projects, she said there are 85 PPP proposals which are under consideration. “We are creating a single window system for expeditious clearance of such projects.”
Claiming to have made a record of sorts in laying new lines, she said the earlier average of constructing 180 kms of new track had been broken.
“For the first time in railway history we have constructed 700 km and we will touch 1000 km next year,” she said.
Asked about the introduction of Super AC class, she said it is a business proposition to earn more revenue.
The Super AC class will be in addition to existing first, second and third AC.
In her consecutive third Railway Budget, Banerjee refrained from raising passenger fares.