(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
January 30, 2011
Bankruptcy All the Way
From Our Special
Correspondent in Kolkata
‘INDIAN Railways is on the brink of bankruptcy’, said India Today in the first sentence of a recent report (January 31, 2011 issue). The report is aptly headlined as ‘Bankrupt Banerjee’, with a caustic reference to Mamata Banerjee, minister for railways.
It has now become a known fact that the Indian Railways is going through a very serious financial crunch. Just before the ensuing budget, the total earnings of the railways is nearly Rs 26,000 crore short of the last year’s budget target. The expenditure has increased while the earnings have come down. It has come to such a pass that the ministry has sought to double its budgetary support from finance ministry. It has also asked to forego the dividend in general budgetary fund. Operating ratio of railways has crossed 95 per cent, a sign of red alert.
In a similar report Indian Express has stated (January 9, 2011): 'The Indian Railways’ great “turnaround story”, which was making waves in business schools till a few months back, now appears headed towards an ignominious end. A sharp decline in earnings and a serious escalation in expenditures are threatening to push India’s transport behemoth to near-bankruptcy. Insiders say that so grave is the financial situation that the Railways may not be left with enough funds this year to appropriate money into two critical reserves that fund its purchase of new assets and improvements in passenger amenities — the Capital Fund and the Development Fund. In fact, last year too, the Railways had failed to provide even a single rupee to its Capital Fund, which is used for buying new assets.’
In most of these reports, the railway minister’s ‘populist’ and West Bengal-oriented project declarations have been identified as responsible for such a mess. Her ‘non-resident’ status as railways minister as well as her desperate attempts in her home state has been castigated.
While it is true, that Mamata Banerjee has either declared or laid the foundation stone for multiple projects – ranging from new lines and factories to stadiums – almost every weekend since 2009, most of them have failed to move forward an inch. Most betrayed are the people of her home state.
Here are some examples.
In November, 2009, the railway minister laid the foundation stone of a so-called ‘automobile hub’ in Shalimar, a station adjacent to Howrah. It was declared with much fanfare that there would be a hub of motor cars, accessory factories etc. After a full year, not even a godown was constructed there. In Shalimar, there was a traditional area where automobiles were unloaded from railway wagons. It used to handle 15 rakes per month on an average. Now, with railway minister’s blessings the number of rakes handled has come down to 1 per month. No factories, no hub, nothing else.
Around 13 months ago, Mamata Banerjee laid the foundation stone for a proposed factory of diesel and electrical locomotives components in Dankuni. She even declared that the ‘industrial renaissance’ of West Bengal would start from Dankuni. Till date, there is no offer for any joint venture, no tender for construction, and no project report even. What is most interesting is that the Railways is only considering of building a store for such components and not a factory. The only works nearly completed are filing up a water body, violating environmental rules and eviction of the families who lived there for many years without any compensation.
In another instance, the laying of foundation stone and the ‘inauguration’ of Coach Factory in Kanchrapara have been done not once, but twice. The first one was in March, 2010 and then again in January, 2011. As if the construction of the industry has really began. The fact remains that it has not been decided yet who would build the factory, no tender has been finalised. It has been admitted even in PIB Press note that the final tender would be initiated approximately in March, 2011.
The same or worse fate has dawned for the so-called Axle factory in New Jalpaiguri. Railways minister has ‘started’ the work of the factory with colourful and lavish programme while another PSU Mecon has just been advised to survey and prepare project viability report!
In her uncanny way of hoodwinking people by hyped up propaganda, railways minister has also misused the office of President of India. President Pratibha Patil laid the foundation stone of a Metro project in Kolkata for which there is no land available till date, no engineering report, no detail project report. Even the foundation stone was laid in a land which was a private property and the stone was shifted within few days surreptitiously.
These are only few examples of the much-trumpeted developmental work of railways in West Bengal. Not only economic bankruptcy, the railway minister has become a symbol of political bankruptcy as well.