Mamata Banerjee presents rail budget

Railway minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday made the right noises on the Vision 2020 she had unveiled in December, but focused at least as much on Vision 2011 -- her strategy for winning the West Bengal assembly polls next year.


In a railway budget speech that even proposed a Rabindra Museum and a Shambhu Mitra cultural complex, which will include a music academy, in Howrah, she appeared to be irritated by taunts of regional bias from the opposition benches. But she must surely be hoping that voters back home share the view that she has been partisan.


There was no mistaking the dominance of West Bengal in the host of new projects the rail mantri proposed to initiate, despite her repeated attempts to convince the House that she had been even-handed.


A budget that predictably had no fare or freight increases ended up projecting an operating ratio of 92.3% for the coming year, which means less than eight rupees from every hundred the railways earn will be available for investing in the future. That's a sharp decline from the nearly 25 rupees for every hundred they could set aside as recently as 2007-08.


The speech was not lacking in promises, but keeping them will involve others stepping in to do their bit and also mean a squeeze on railway finances that does not augur too well for the future.


In any case, Banerjee would be hoping that she'll be happily ensconced in Writers' Building long before any of the tall promises she's made become due.


Among the less ambitious proposals, there were the usual new trains (52 of them long distance express and 28 passenger), the extension of 21 trains and the promise of increased frequency in the case of 12 trains. There was also a promise of multi-level parking facilities in stations in major cities. Some 94 stations are to be upgraded to the 'Adarsh' category and another 10 to 'world class', while 93 new multi-functional complexes will be developed.

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