During his speech while participating in the Motion of Thanks on the President’s address in the Parliament, Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien criticised the union budget, calling it ‘100% visionless’. He said, “India’s first paperless budget is also a 100% visionless budget. Theme of the fake budget is Sell India!”.
O’Brien said that govt has sold Railways, Airports, Ports, PSU, and also made several remarks criticising the functioning of Indian Railways. He also accused Railways of shelving 31 projects in West Bengal, and criticised the move to implement some projects under the SPV (Special Purpose Vehicle) model, where state governments also become stakeholders. He said that the railways have failed federalism, as under the SPV system, states have to fund 50% of the project cost, while earlier all projects were 100% funded by the central ministry.
The MP also said now there is no Railway budget, referring to the decision of the Modi govt to merge the Railway budget with general budget.
Responding to his comments, the Railway Ministry has come up with a strong rebuttal, defending the decisions taken up by the ministry. In a statement issued by the ministry, it has said that now Railway estimates are presented along with General Budget, and it does not mean there has been any cut in resources for the railways. The ministry says that the budget merger has helped bring Railways to the centre stage of Govt policy and ensured optimum sectoral allocations. “This has helped in multi modal transport planning as evident from the support of Rs 1.07 lakh cr which is 53% jump from previous year,” said the statement.
Refuting the claims of ignoring West Bengal, the ministry has informed that budget allocation for infrastructure and safety projects in West Bengal in the year 2021-22 is Rs. 6636 crore, which is ever highest. This is 26% higher than last year and 51% higher than the average allocation during 2009-14, when TMC was part of UPA govt and it had occupied the Railway ministry for majority of the term.
Talking about the projects West Bengal, the ministry has said that 53 projects are going on in the state, in which token allotments have been done in 34 projects. Most of these projects, some of them almost 45 years old dating back to 1974-75, are affected by delays in land acquisition by state government and other local issues. The ministry said that now fund allocation are made based on progress and priority of projects, therefore if a project is stalled due to issues such as land acquisition, ministry will not allocate further funds for it.
The ministry has also given the reason for implementing SPV model for some projects. While majority of projects are still completely funded by the ministry, some projects are taken under the SPV route for various reasons. This model has been developed to mainly augment more resources in Rail sector. The railway ministry said that SPVs with states lead to greater participation of states in financing & decision-making process for Railway projects.
Moreover, state govts often want projects based on public demand, but which are not remunerative for the railways. SPVs have allowed such projects to be taken up with the participation of the respective state governments. Under this system, the state govts have the freedom to choose projects and make them bankable by private support, free land offers or Viability Gap Funding (VGF).
To implement unremunerative projects, Railway ministry is considering offers of free land and 50% share of cost of project. This brings in discipline and responsibility amongst stakeholders and projects don’t languish for want of funds, the ministry statement said.
The Railway ministry has also denied the allegation made by the TMC leader that it has not released the Pink Book yet, saying that the Pink Book which was published on 3rd Feb and is available in the public domain. This document gives allotments for individual projects being undertaken by each zonal Railway/production unit.
It is notable the Railway Ministry has been asking the West Bengal government to complete the land acquisition, remove encroachments and other bottlenecks stalling almost three dozen railway projects, the but the Mamata Banerjee has not moved to act on that. On Thursday, Railway Minister Piyush Goyal said, “I appeal to Mamata didi to expedite the process and give us land”.
He had said, “Projects there remain incomplete or are delayed because the state governments – first it was the Left front government and now the TMC– have been unable to provide land to us. Projects which are 45 year old are pending in the state.” He said that earlier Railway ministers used to announce projects without checking the availability of fund, land etc. That is the reason why so many railway projects are lying incomplete in the country. That system has ended now, and projects are started only after the ministry have land needed for them.