New Delhi, Feb. 26: In some ways, Nitish Kumar has done a Mamata Banerjee with his 2003-2004 budget.
Projects that the former railway minister had pushed for — such as new lines for Kakdweep-Namkhana and Howrah-Amta, connecting Calcutta Airport with the circular railway and a Rs 100-crore terminal at Chitpur to decongest traffic at Sealdah — are being taken up.
Irked by Mamata’s accusations that the decision to split Eastern Railway was anti-Bengal, the Samata Party leader seems to have decided to play safe and go along with plans she had unveiled two years ago.
Politically, too, it is a master-stroke. The kudos for Mamata’s Bengal plan will now be for the BJP-led Centre and in smaller measure the CPM-led Bengal government, which went out of its way to smooth the road for the projects by making available all the land needed. As for Mamata, she would have to try and rekindle public memory of her acts when in office.
The major beneficiaries of Kumar’s largesse are three sets of states: Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi and Chhattisgarh which go to polls later this year; the four states where the BJP or its allies rule — Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh; and Bihar, the rail minister’s own state.
Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh — two states where the BJP is locked in a tough battle with the ruling Congress — are among the favourites for new projects and new trains. While both have track-conversion projects, the former has been rewarded with five new trains and a train whose run has been extended. Madhya Pradesh has been given six new trains besides three extended routes.
Chhattisgarh, with hardly any rail network and where the BJP has ambitions of overthrowing the Ajit Jogi-led Congress government, has been given three new trains. The frequency of the Bilaspur-New Delhi Rajdhani Express has been doubled and the run of three trains to or from the state extended.
Uttar Pradesh — home to many of the BJP’s top leaders, including Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee — has got nine new trains. While the Gorakhpur-Mumbai Godaan Express and the Bareilly-Bhuj Ala Hazrat Express will run more frequently, three Uttar Pradesh-bound trains have had their routes extended.
Key southern allies Jayalalithaa and Chandrababu Naidu, chief ministers of Tamil Nadu and Andhra respectively, have been rewarded with loyalty by way of five and three new trains, besides extended runs within the state boundaries. While Andhra will also see restoration of the Kakinada-Kotipalli section, Tamil Nadu has got five gauge conversion projects.
But their biggest gains have been in metropolitan Hyderabad and Chennai. While Chennai Egmore will be directly linked with Chennai Central to make travel easier for millions of commuters, the Hyderabad-Lingampalli section of the Hyderabad-Secunderabad-Faluknama metro rail project will be completed this year.
Gujarat has got two gauge conversion projects and three new trains. The Jamnagar-Ahmedabad Express is being extended to Surat, a city which supported BJP wholeheartedly in the last election.
The rail minister’s home state, which bagged the biggest prize of them all when it secured the Hajipur zone after the carve-up of Eastern Railway, got one of the few new line projects lined up for this year. It has also gained four new trains. The Patna-Mumbai Lokmanya Tilak Express will now run six days a week, up from four. Two trains to Bihar saw their run extended within the state’s boundaries.
Kumar also saw to it that virtually every new train that goes to the east or the Northeast from any other part of India travels via Bihar. Even a new Varanasi-Howrah Express, which should have run through Jharkhand, has been routed via Patna.