A railway(Chief) minister for West Bengal !

By: Biswajeet Panda
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Mamata Banerjee
Bangalore, Feb 25: So the great Indian railway budget for 2011 has come to an end. Much was anticipated, and not surprisingly, didi, as Mamata Banerjee is fondly known, gave promises only to falter. To be fair, she wasn't as biased towards her home state, as was expected. But this is even not to absolve her of the comparative largesse she meted out to West Bengal.

Over the next few days, opposition parties will cry foul over the budget while the ruling coalition will sing praises for the all-inclusive part of the budget. But if it is analysed from a neutral prospect, there isn't anything to write volumes on this rail-budget.

True to the expectations, Mamata Banerjee catered to her home state-West Bengal, where elections are due shortly and she is leaving no stone unturned to capsize the communist government there. For cynics and the byte-hungry media, she provided a moment of a by-now-so-common histrionics of her when she roared, "I am proud of MY STATE". She pledged to cater to her state and almost as an afterthought proclaimed that she will dole out favours to other parts of the country as well.

34 new metro-trains in Kolkata, a rail park in Nandigram, 50 more suburban services, a track-machine factory at Uluberia were some of the sops that West Bengal received, courtesy of a railway minster who is also an aspiring candidate for the state's chief-ministerial post. But the real deal was for Singur where she proposed to set up a coach factory. Remember Singur, the same place where West Bengal had alloted land to the Tatas for setting up a plant for the ambitious Tata Nano project and didi had fought tooth and nail to oppose it. Why this sudden change in stance? Is it because Nano is meant for four and trains for 4000? Oh didi, you are such an enigma, or are you just another of those hypocritic politicians who love to contradict themselves depending upon which side of power they are on.

With all due respect to West Bengal, we have had enough of it in the railway budget, so its time to veer towards other existing parts of our country, or so it seems at least for everyone else save the railway minister. A factory at Jammu Kashmir is fine, same for the proposed plant at Manipur and that is where it ends. These states that have been deprived of being beneficiaries of all Railway Ministers' plans will have to find solace in these two. And probably wait for a time when they can have some one in the railway ministry from their state, who will for once at least divert the the railways largesse to them.

The minster could have done better by at least announcing a few more trains and sops to the north-eastern states as well as to Jammu and Kashmir. Had she done so, then probably the benefits of a growing economy could have been distributed a little bit more evenly.

The chest-thumping about Izzat-ticket scheme was not misplaced. But it could have been a bit better if she had pondered that majority of the poor people live in remote areas of the north-east, Bihar and Orissa and extended the railways to their vicinity. But still she deserves kudos for the scheme.

No hike in ticket prices was yet another instance of appeasement politics or else how do you describe it when the Railways are reported to be running in losses. Economic part of the budget, i.e, the investment plans and money-raising are all ambitious but how far can they be realised remains to be seen.

Shatabdi trains have found new corridors but sadly again they remain confined to mainland India and not the far-away corners except for Thiruvananthapuram.

Another disappointment was the complete lack of emphasis on the security of railway travellers. She bragged about the reduction in number of accidents but failed to address the concerns about security to trains in naxal-infested areas. So, as it seems delaying trains are the only strategy to avoid being targetted by the naxals. The Delhi-Bhubaneswar Rajdhani express being a case in point.

The Go India smart card meant for passengers travelling long distances was a smart and futuristic move. Hopefully it sees the light of the day and serves the purpose.

Leaving aside the awards, incentives and steps of improvement for staff of the Indian Railways, there was nothing concrete to feel good about this budget. If anyone thought that this was going to be pro-common man, then they were right but sadly the common man in question has been restricted to West Bengal alone. People from other provinces of the nation, especially north-eastern states, Jammu Kashmir, Orissa, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh only to name a few, have once again bore the brunt of not having a railway minster who hails from their state.

Bias in Indian Railways will chug along for yet another year. Hopefully the sops to West Bengal serves their purpose so that at least for the next year, the railway minster can be from another state and people can hope for a little bit more attention to their needs.

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