Rail budget has little for northeast, say parties

Agartala/Guwahati, Feb 25 (Calcutta Tube) Reactions to Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee’s budget appeared to be sharply divided in India’s northeast Thursday, with several political parties saying it would not improve connectivity in the region. However, the document was welcomed by a powerful industry lobby as ‘very positive’.

The Federation of Industry and Commerce of North Eastern Region (FINER), an apex body of industrialists in the region, said it was ‘very positive’.

FINER chairman R.S. Joshi told reporters in Guwahati that a proposed master plan for development of rail infrastructure in the region, the provision of a trans-Asian railway network and a railway link between India and Bangladesh would prove to be long-lasting steps.

‘These measures would boost the economy of the northeast region,’ he said.

The Left Front government in Tripura Thursday voiced its unhappiness over the railway budget, saying Banerjee had ignored the northeast which is made up of eight states.

‘No new scheme or project was announced in the railway budget. The railway minister in her budget speech only reiterated the projects announced earlier,’ Tripura Transport and Power Minister Manik Dey told reporters.

Ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI) spokesman Gautam Das said: ‘There is no political will and sincerity to develop railway connectivity in the landlocked and backward northeastern region.’

‘When H.D. Deve Gowda was prime minister, a masterplan was announced in 1996 to link all the capital cities of the eight northeastern states by 2006. But besides Guwahati, only Tripura capital Agartala was connected by the railway network in 2008 after constant struggle,’ Das told newsmen.

Banerjee in her budget speech Wednesday had said: ‘The link between Akhaurah (Bangladesh) and Agartala (India) would also provide a shorter rail route between West Bengal and the northeastern region via Bangladesh.’

But Das said: ‘The linking of the Akhaurah railway station on the Bangladesh side with the Agartala railway station on the Indian side was also a old scheme. The survey for this project was completed long back.’

‘All our demands were rejected in the budget,’ he said. The demands included setting up a railway division in Tripura and fixing the schedule for completion of gauge conversion in the Lumding-Agartala sector.

Reacting to the railway budget, North East MPs’ Forum general secretary Birendra Prasad Baishya said they were not happy because there was no indication in the budget to solve the connectivity problems of the region.

About the proposal to formulate a master plan, Baishya pointed out the railway minister made no mention about the funding of proposals.

‘In the last budget, Banerjee announced Duronto trains connecting the northeast. The demand was for introduction of Duronto from Guwahati to Delhi and Mumbai, but there is no mention. This is a political budget aimed at the West Bengal assembly polls,’ Baishya said.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Ramen Deka described the railway budget as one of the worst and said there was nothing in it for Assam and other northeastern states.

Assam’s ruling Congress said the budget was ‘forward looking and progressive’. Railway Minister Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress partners a Congress government at the centre.

Assam Congress president Bhubaneswar Kalita said: ‘The budget has taken care of the remotest areas and sought to expand railways to hill areas. Even if the region did not get as expected, we cannot say it has neglected the region because other actions have been undertaken.’

Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi in a letter recently urged the railway minister to create a new railway zone exclusively for the northeastern region to enhance connectivity and make the mobility of men and material easier.

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