Bengal has been allocated the largest quantum of funds for rail projects among all states of the country in the 2023-2024 budget unveiled on Wednesday (1 February).
The Rs 11,970 crore earmarked for many rail projects in Bengal marks the highest allocation for the state so far, much higher than what even Mamata Banerjee, as Railway Minister, had given to her state.
The budget bounty for Bengal effectively demolishes Mamata Banerjee’s often-repeated charge that the Narendra Modi government discriminates against Bengal while allocating funds for various projects, including social welfare schemes.
Apart from a 172 per cent hike (over last fiscal) in the allocation for Kolkata Metro Rail projects, the bonanza for Bengal represents a three-fold increase over the total allocation of Rs 4,380 crore during the Congress-led UPA II regime (2009 to 2014) of which the Trinamool Congress was an important constituent.
A record 93 railway stations in Bengal, including Howrah, Kolkata, Asansol and Bandel, will undergo major revamps that will make these stations completely user-friendly with a host of facilities for passengers.
Many of these stations will also go ‘green’ with solar-power generation and adoption of energy-saving technologies.
It may be mentioned that even during Mamata Banerjee’s tenures as Railway Minister, railway stations in Bengal got at best, superficial facelifts with a coat of paint and addition of some rudimentary passenger amenities.
The revamp of the 93 railway stations in the state over the next one year, will include addition of lounges, comfortable waiting rooms, restaurants, escalators and elevators and many other amenities.
“The revamped stations will be world-class and will compare with the best in advanced countries. The whole exercise is being undertaken with an eye on passenger comfort and convenience and the rail passenger will be the primary focus of this revamp,” a senior officer of Eastern Railways (ER) told Swarajya.
The ER has been allocated Rs 4,078 crore, a 39 per cent increase over last year’s figure. Apart from the ER zone, Bengal is also served by the South-Eastern Railway (SER) and the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) zones.
SER caters to the southern and western parts of Bengal while North Bengal is catered to exclusively by NFR. The total allocation of Rs 11,970 crore for Bengal includes the amounts given to SER and NFR for railway projects only in the state.
The country’s first hydrogen powered train will also be introduced in Bengal. The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) in North Bengal will get the first hydrogen-powered locomotive to pull trains along the narrow-gauge tracks that wind through the Darjeeling Hills.
A major beneficiary of the huge allocation of funds to Bengal will be the Kolkata Metro Rail. The total allocation of Rs 4,496.5 crore in 2023-2024 represents a 172 per cent hike over last year’s allocation of Rs 2316.3 crore.
This amount includes Rs 1,000 crore allocated for Kolkata’s East-West Metro from Salt Lake Sector V to Howrah that will pass under the Hooghly river.
Rail Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw has set a strict year-end deadline for the completion of the 16-kilometre-long East-West (EW) Metro. Only nine kilometres of the EW Mero (also called Line 2 of Kolkata Metro Rail Network) between Salt Lake Sector V and Sealdah is operating now.
An 800-metre stretch of the EW Metro between Sealdah and Esplanade has hindered the project due to repeated land subsidence. The stretch between Esplanade and Howrah, including the underwater section, is also ready.
Kolkata Metro Railway officers said the pace of work is being stepped up so that the projects are completed within the new deadlines.
The Kolkata Metro has seen addition of 14.2 kilometres of tracks in 2022-2023 another 25.3 kilometres will be added by the end of next year.
By 2026-2027, the city’s Metro Rail network will see further enhancement with the addition of another 27.6 kilometres of tracks.
Expansion of the country’s oldest Metro has been hampered by land acquisition issues. “Acquiring land in Kolkata is a major problem, especially with encroachers who simply refuse to move despite handsome compensations,” said a Metro Rail officer.
This problem has got further compounded by the Trinamool government’s patronage of encroachers. While other cities have witnessed rapid expansion of their metro rail networks, Kolkata has lagged behind them.
Also, as many as 44 railway projects in Bengal, including ones involving the construction of new lines, doubling the existing ones and construction of bridges and culverts, have been held up due to land acquisition problems.
The Union Government’s largesse to Bengal, despite the slow pace of progress of rail projects due to land acquisition and other issues and the state government’s frequent apathy in resolving these issues promptly, disproves the frequent allegations by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee that the Narendra Modi government discriminates against Bengal.
“This allegation (about the Centre discriminating against Bengal) is a baseless one and levelled by Mamata Banerjee to hide her own abject failures. The Modi government has no bias towards or against any state and treats all states equally,” leader of opposition Suvendu Adhikary told Swarajya.
Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, Nisith Pramanik told Swarajya that disbursement of funds only for welfare and other projects where large numbers of anomalies have been detected have been held up by the Union Government.
“Allegations of large scale corruption like siphoning off funds, collecting money in the names of fake beneficiaries and even showing projects only on paper have surfaced in schemes like the MGNREGA, PM Awas Yojana, PM Gram Sadak Yojana and Swacch Bharat projects in Bengal. Disbursal of funds have rightly been held up till the anomalies are corrected and money pocketed by Trinamool functionaries is returned,” Pramanik explained.
BJP national vice president Dilip Ghosh said that withholding funds for projects mired in corruption does not mean discriminating against Bengal.
“The stoppage of disbursal of funds is actually aimed at preventing further loot of Central funds by Trinamool leaders. Disbursal has been resumed as soon as anomalies have been corrected. That has actually benefited the people of Bengal who are always being cheated by Trinamool leaders,” said Ghosh.
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