Kolkata: Union rail minister Mamata Banerjee, who was at the forefront of protests against the acquisition of land for industrialization in her home state, West Bengal, used the rail budget as an opportunity to clear the air about her stand on industrialization in the state.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
By announcing a host of projects in West Bengal to be executed through a partnership with private players and which will use railway land, Banerjee made two strong statements at once: that she, too, was keen to bring in investments, and that she wouldn’t grab land from farmers for industrial projects.
The opposition of Banerjee and her party, the Trinamool Congress, to the acquisition of land from farmers for industrial projects was behind the decision of the state government to abandon a planned chemical hub in Nandigram in the state, and that of Tata Motors Ltd to relocate its small car factory out of Singur in West Bengal to Sanand in Gujarat.
In Kolkata, Banerjee’s announcements were seen “coming from as much a (Union) rail minister as from a would-be chief minister”, according to Rabin Deb, state secretariat member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, that has ruled the state for 32 years. “But the proof of the pudding is in the eating—let’s see how much she delivers,” he added.
After convincingly beating the Left Front in West Bengal in the general election held in April-May, Banerjee has set her eyes on the assembly polls in the state in 2011. In alliance with the Congress party, Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress claimed 25 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal, while the Left Front won only 15 seats—20 fewer than in 2004.
Banerjee’s success in the general election was attributed to an anti-incumbency wave in the state, which escalated because of controversies over land acquisition for industrial projects.
Also Read More on Budget 2009
But because Banerjee’s opposition to Tata Motors’ small car factory in Singur led to the company pulling the plug on the Rs1,500-crore project, some industrialists see her as anti-business.
Clearly, if first impressions are anything to go by, her budget proposals had the desired effect.
“She has done the impossible by packing at least 10 annual budgets into one,” said Sanjiv Goenka, vice-chairman of RPG Enterprises, one of Kolkata’s biggest business houses.
Banerjee’s proposals to buy up to 18,000 wagons in the current fiscal, to establish a dedicated freight corridor for eastern India, and to build a coach factory in partnership with a private player at the Kanchrapara-Halisahar railway complex in North 24 Parganas district near Kolkata wowed a large number of Kolkata-headquartered companies such as Jessop and Co. Ltd, Titagarh Wagons Ltd, Stone India Ltd and Texmaco Ltd, which manufacture wagons and supply components to the railways.
“We are one of the largest wagon manufacturers in the country and should be able to benefit from the increased buying of wagons,” said Umesh Chowdhary, vice-chairman and managing director of Titagarh Wagons. “We would be very keen to take part in the various PPP (public-private partnership) projects announced by the minister.”
In a statement, Jessop said Banerjee’s budget proposals were likely to boost sales and create new opportunities for it to grow. “The proposed railway land bank is a reflection of Banerjee’s keenness to address the pressing problems of the manufacturing industry,” said Pawan Kumar Ruia, Jessop’s chairman.
However, Feedback Ventures Pvt. Ltd—a consulting firm, which specializes in infrastructure—issued a statement saying Banerjee had promised the “moon to all stakeholders... at a rather difficult time”.
“There is a serious question mark on speed and delivery efficiency,” said Akhileshwar Sahay, president of Feedback Venture’s infrastructure advisory division and a former member of the Railway Board, Indian Railways’ apex management body.