New Delhi: Mamata Banerjee catered to election-bound West Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu in the railway budget she presented on Friday, introducing a number of trains, services and rail-based industrial units for these as well as north-eastern states.
The railway minister, who hails from West Bengal and whose party Trinamool Congress (TMC) is a key ally of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre, invited criticism from the opposition for presenting what it has termed a populist budget.
In response, Banerjee said her budget, which left passenger and freight charges unchanged, had the interest of the nation in mind.
“We have given projects to (the) entire country, including Jammu and Kashmir, Manipur and Assam. Bengal is not outside India,” she said.
“It is a common man’s budget without increase in freight and passenger fares. Thereby, it will help to weaken (the) cost push element of inflation,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told reporters.
The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party said the budget’s “larger approach is to do nothing. It has run out of ideas. The railways’ finances and performance are in a mess”.
Banerjee’s 90-minute speech was disrupted by opposition members shouting that the budget was partial to West Bengal. The railway budget has proposed 50 new suburban train services, 20 new express trains, five other express trains, two new Durontos, rail industrial parks at Jellingham in West Bengal and New Bongaigaon in Assam, an on-track machine manufacturing unit at Uluberia and a centre for excellence in software at Darjeeling, both in West Bengal.
Banerjee also announced a metro coach factory in Singur in West Bengal, adding that the unit had been announced earlier but could not be set up as the state government did not provide the required land.
“In order to fulfil this, I propose to set up a metro coach factory on the land purchased from willing sellers at Singur/adjacent Polba.”
Banerjee’s TMC led months of protests in Singur some years ago mainly against land acquired for Tata Motors Ltd’s Nano small car project, driving the company out of the state.
Banerjee said the proposed coach factory will require only 100 acres, whereas Tata Motors wanted some 1,000 acres.
The TMC is the main rival of the Left front government in West Bengal that’s led by the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM).
The Singur protests led to a resurgence of the TMC and the party is expected to give the CPM a tough fight in the assembly election that’s due before May, even threatening the Left’s three-decade rule in the state.
Kerala and Tamil Nadu, which, too, go to polls before May, have also been allocated more than a dozen new train services and extension of services. These include a second unit of the Integral Coach Factory in Perambur (Tamil Nadu), a wagon unit in Alappuzha (Kerala) and a partnership with Steel Industries Ltd in Kerala.
North-eastern states received special attention from the railway minister. “North-East is our priority area and receives government’s full support. Imphal, the capital of Manipur, will soon be connected to the railway network... I propose to set up a diesel locomotive centre in Manipur,” she said.
Banerjee has created a “non-lapsable fund” for railway projects in the North-East region to push projects there. She said all state capitals in the region, except Sikkim, would be connected by rail network in seven years. Work on a railway line connecting West Bengal to Sikkim began last year.
The TMC won five seats in Arunachal Pradesh in the 2010 assembly elections, and recently won the Konthoujam bye-election to the Manipur legislative assembly.
“It is natural for Banerjee to give special care to West Bengal and North-East (states),” said Subrata Mukherjee, professor, department of political science, Delhi University. “I think this could be a part of (the) government’s look-east policies, in which infrastructure development is a key factor.”