It is apparent why Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had named only six ministries after the swearing on May 22 which were allotted portfolios. The Ministry of Railways to be presided over by Mamata Banerjee is one such which is an extremely important infrastructural ministry which did not receive proper ministerial care in the recent past.
Most people are unaware that Lalu Prasad Yadav had totally failed to even commence work on even one of the two dedicated freight corridors—one from Ludhiana to Jawaharlal Nehru Port—the western corridor—and the Ludhiana to Sone Nagar corridor (to be extended towards Kolkata later), the eastern corridor.
Yes, for the sake of record, he did got some work started on the eastern corridor on a small stretch of line between Karwandiya and Ganjkhwaja stations between Dehri-on-Sone and Mughalsarai section. But the problem is this work was “inaugurated” by Sonia Gandhi from Sone Nagar, which is across the river Sone, through remote control. The second trouble is that both these stations are existing ones on the Dehri-on-Sone to Mughalsarai section of the North Central Railway, which has an existing third line between Dehri-on-Sone and Mughalsarai, which carries mainly coal from the north Karanpura coalfields to consumers in western and northern India. Unless Smt Gandhi had inaugurated work on the fourth line on this alignment, Laluji might have pulled a fast one on the Chairperson of UPA, whose knowledge of those obscure areas cannot be expected to be perfect.
In any case, as part of the eleventh five-year plan, Indian Railways were expected to have undertaken work on 11,500 kilometres of dedicated freight corridor(DFC) costing Rs. 100,000 crore; upgradation of feeder routes of DFC Rs. 25,000 crore; Doubling of port connectivity works Rs. 25,000 crore. Not a single rupee of these Rs. 1,50,000 crore have been spent so far with the 11th plan due to come in March 2012.
Some money might have been spent on the other projects like gauge conversion Rs. 20,000 crore, signaling and telecom works, Rs. 15,000 crore; asset renewal Rs. 80,000 crore; passenger and freight terminals Rs. 25,000 crore, augmentation of manufacturing capacity for rolling stock Rs. 5000 crore and miscellaneous works—Rs. 55,000 crore. The total comes to Rs 2 lakh crore. It is for Mamata Banerjee to take stock of the situation.
The Railways have achieved the target of setting up a dedicated freight corridor construction corporation. But that is about all.
If the current eleventh and the following 12th-five-year plans are to be implemented, tremendous efforts will be necessary for providing funds for such huge plan sizes. Mamata would have to pay undivided attention to this aspect of Indian Railways.
Incidentally, it is not true that Mamata Banerjee’s first stint as a Railway Minister was a failure. Available official statistics say a different story. According to the statement showing important financial figures in respect of Indian Railways for the period 1950-51 to 2005-06, the financial results during her tenure 2000-2001 show that the Excess (Indian Railways to not use the words profit or loss) was Rs. 763.59 crore. It is true that she had not raised fares and freight rates—which was expected of her because of the poor state of economy of the railways then. She had not paid a single paisa as dividend (interest on loans forwarded by the Ministry of Finance), yet her performance was not a condemnable one. Almost all Railway Ministers since the day of Prof Madhu Dandwate used to skip payment of dividend. It was only Shri CK Jaffer Sharief who had cleared all previous arrears in 1993.
Nevertheless, Mamata is a much more mature politician and—one hopes—administrator who is expected to make a success of her stint as the Railway Minister for the second time.
It has been more or less forgotten that in view of the deterioration in the railway finance position, Mamata Banerjee had set up a Task Force for generating additional resources through non-traditional methods.
Although the suggestions made by the Task Force are no longer valid, because the economics of the Indian Railways have been looking up substantially because of the improvement in the economy at large and increasing efficient use of assets by railway men and women later, some of the suggestions made hold good even today. Own your own wagons, build own, lease and transfer system, private involvement in construction of railway infrastructure as the Pipavav port scheme, are some of the projects which were thought of by that Task Force.