Kolkata, Feb 24 (IANS) Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee is all set to present her fifth annual budget for the ministry Friday, amid concern over poor progress of large projects and the financial health of the world’s second largest rail network under one management.
With the Vision 2020 document of 2009 expected to serve as the guiding force, the budget is expected to announce new measures to double the network of multiple tracks to 30,000 km. But the ensuing elections in West Bengal will tie down her arms on fare hikes.
Experts concede all the new trains Banerjee had promised in her two previous budgets for the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had been flagged off and that passenger amenities had also improved during her tenure.
She had announced 122 new trains in 2009-10 and 54 more a year later.
But what has emerged as a big question mark is the financial health of the network — especially after her predecessor Lalu Prasad’s claims of having dramatically turned the Indian Railways around that became matter of case studies in business schools like Harvard.
“For the first time in the history of India, today the minister of railways has achieved the impossible — she actually made the railways bankrupt,” Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Sitaram Yechury told reporters in New Delhi.
The budget also cames against the backdrop of the share of Indian Railways in movement of goods, vis a vis truckers, falling from 24.07 percent in 2001-02 to 20.89 percent in 2008-09 and further to around 19 percent last fiscal.
Officials in Indian Railways, however, said progress was, indeed, being made.
“Work for all the projects, for which the minister had laid the foundation stone or inaugurated, has started and it will be completed within the stipulated timeframe,” said a spokesperson for Southern Railways.
“But as the projects are being executed by several agencies or under the public-private partnership model, it is not possible for us to provide progress report of every specific project in detail immediately,” he told IANS.
Indian Railways has a network of 64,099 route km to ferry 18.9 million passengers on 7,000 trains daily from 6,906 stations. It also runs 4,000 freight trains to carry 850 million tonnes of cargo.
On fare hikes, no one expects any additional burden on pasengers as Banerjee has set her eyes on becoming the next chief minister of West Bengal and would like to keep her steps populist, refraining from any measure that may be seen as anti-people.
The Trinamool Congress leader last Friday held a meeting with her two ministers of state Bharatsinh Solanki and K. H. Muniyappa and top officials led by Railway Board chairman Vivek Sahai to fine tune the budget, which is set to be presented in the Lok Sabha Friday morning.