New Delhi, Feb 25 (IANS) The ruling UPA Friday showered encomiums on Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee for presenting “a common man’s budget”, while opposition parties, including the BJP and the Left charged her with “populism” and being “West-Bengal centric”.
Interestingly, several reactions from states, particularly those from Bihar and Punjab, too were critical of the railway budget, saying it had ignored their requirements.
Among the first to react to the railway budget for 2011-12 presented in Lok Sabha, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh praised it, saying: “It is a common man’s budget with no increase in freight and passenger fares. It will help to weaken the cost crucial element of inflationary expectations.”
The prime minister told reporters outside parliament that the railway minister had at the same time taken good care to increase investment in critical areas of railway infrastructure, thereby sustaining the growth momentum of the economy.
Congress, the largest party in the UPA government, hailed the railway budget and said it showed ‘concern and sensitivity’ towards the common man. The party also expressed happiness over Banerjee not hiking passenger fares, thereby not burdening the people.
“The most significant aspect of the budget is that she (Mamata Banerjee) has not increased any fare. She has shown her great concern and sensitivity towards the needs for the common man to which the UPA government is totally committed,” party spokesperson Manish Tewari said.
The first of the salvos against Banerjee came from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which branded her a “dream peddler” and said she was “playing a joke” on the people by announcing new projects in her budget but without financial support.
The BJP also slammed the minister for focusing on poll-bound West Bengal to announce new railway projects, as though other states do not belong to India.
“Mamata Banerjee sapne bech rahi hain (she is peddling dreams). The financial health of the Indian Railways is weak. How can the new projects she announced be executed without any financial support,” BJP deputy leader in the Lok Sabha Gopinath Munde asked.
“For the railway minister, only Bengal exists and rest of the country does not. This is a joke being played on the Indian people. She is playing games with the country,” he charged.
The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), which will fight Banerjee’s party, Trinamool Congress, in the West Bengal assembly polls, obviously was not in any mood to show favour to her.
In strong criticism of the railway budget, CPI-M’s Sitaram Yechury termed it a “deceitful budget” and said it has been prepared under coalition compulsions.
“It is a deceitful budget done through the sleight of hand. This railway budget is a victim of coalition compulsions and I am surprised how the prime minister (Manmohan Singh) allowed such a budget,” Yechury said.
He said the budget has been prepared keeping in view the upcoming assembly elections in West Bengal, where Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress is in opposition. But even then there is nothing in the railway budget for the next year, he said.
In Kerala, which is ruled by the Left parties, political reactions came along party lines. State’s Congress chief Ramesh Chennithala, expressing happiness over the railway budget providing projects for his state, said: “Never before has Kerala been showered with benefits like this.”
“Of the 82 new trains, 12 trains are for Kerala. Is this not a giant slice for Kerala? Besides, the Palakkad coach factory will soon be a reality and the wagon manufacturing factory near Alappuzha is through,” Chennithala said.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, speaking in state capital Patna, urged her to ensure allocation of sufficient funds for implementation of all rail projects in the state.
“I urge and expect Mamata-ji will do justice and allocate necessary funds in the railway budget for 2011-12 for completion of all rail projects in Bihar,” he said.
Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal too joined the critics of the railway budget and assailed it for “deliberately” ignoring the interests of the border state and disappointing its people.
In a frontal attack on Banerjee, Badal said the railway budget was “totally lopsided and unrealistic, as West Bengal, her home state, has been unduly favoured.”
He said the railway minister should have realised that she was representing the entire country and not just West Bengal. “Our state people felt cheated by this step-motherly treatment and injustice meted out to Punjab, which has hurt their sentiments.”