Kolkata/ New delhi: Union railway minister Mamata Banerjee proposed a range of sops for West Bengal in her second budget on Wednesday, seeking to consolidate political gains in the state that will elect as many as 83 civic bodies in the next few months before assembly elections next year.
From new train services to multi-speciality hospitals for railway employees, from new wagon manufacturing units to a sports academy, Banerjee made sure West Bengal, where her Trinamool Congress (TC) is the main opposition party, got a little bit of every new thing the Indian Railways would be doing in fiscal 2011.
Besides announcing the launch of 35 new train services from different stations in the state, Banerjee proposed to set up two wagon manufacturing factories in West Bengal, a drinking water processing unit and two facilities to manufacture rail axles and refrigerated containers, and expand the production capacity of Chittaranjan Locomotive Works from 200 to 275 a year.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, that rules West Bengal, sees the proposals as populist. Basudev Acharya, a key CPM leader who is also a member of the railway board, said many of them may not materialize.
“The budget says nothing about resource mobilization,” said Acharya, a member of the Rajya Sabha, or the Upper House. “The operating ratio is going to go up to 92% next year from 75% in 2007.” The operating ratio is a measure of the railways’ cost expressed as a percentage of its revenues.
TC has in recent years made inroads in West Bengal, which has been ruled by the CPM-led Left Front since 1977. In the April-May general election, the party won 19 of the 42 parliamentary seats in the state, while its ally, the Congress, won six. The Left Front managed to win only 15 seats— down from 35 in 2004.
Banerjee’s over two-hour budget speech was frequently interrupted by shouts from the Opposition that “it’s a budget for Bengal, not for the country”.
Former minister of state for railways and an independent member of the Lok Sabha, Digvijay Singh, said it was “natural for a minister to keep his/her state in mind while presenting the budget”.
“The Railway Budget is a perfect instrument to pursue her Bengal-centric agenda,” said Bidyut Chakraborty, professor in the department of political science, Delhi University. Banerjee refuted suggestions that the budget was West Bengal-centric. “I cannot satisfy 800 people (parliamentarians)... I have given wagon industry to Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Guwahati... The maximum number of projects have been given to other states,” she told reporters.
The five wagon factories that Banerjee proposed in the budget aren’t immediately needed, said J.P. Chowdhary, chairman of Titagarh Wagons Ltd—a key wagon maker. “There’s enough capacity in the country to meet the railways’ demand for 18,000 wagons next year,” he said.
Even in the current fiscal, the railways had proposed to buy 18,000 wagons, but has bought only 15,000 till now, according to Chowdhary.