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Kalam rides in Kumar country

Harnaut (Bihar), May 30: For a one-hour ride, Nitish Kumar’s railways spent Rs 3.75 lakh. But then it was a ride coming after over a quarter century. For Kumar, it was well worth the money.

A.P.J. Abdul Kalam — the first President to travel by train since Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy in 1977 — not only got to see his constituency, he got to start the process of building a coach maintenance factory, too.

From Harnaut, a part of Barh, from where Kumar was elected, Kalam went to Patna, a distance of 60 km that was covered in less than 60 minutes.

At the eight stations on the way, people stood waving and cheering. Kumar said: “With the President now travelling by train, others will feel proud to use it and I request the President to travel more by train.”

Security fears — and high cost — had led to presidential travel by train going out of fashion. Staying secure on rails continues to be a problem, maybe more so.

After refurbishment, the presidential coach has all the comforts and luxuries available to the viceroys who first used a suite in a train in 1927. The coach that Kalam travelled in was built in 1956.

Chef V.C. Pillai offered the President bonda, cashew, pakoras and tea during the journey from 17.35 to 18.30 pm. Kalam asked for a glass of watermelon juice which was promptly delivered.

The presidential suite also a combined dining and visiting room, a lounge and a bedroom, a kitchen and a small office space for secretaries and the railway staff who form part of the travelling party.

Kalam got nostalgic during the journey, recalling his first rail ride from Rameswaram to Chennai.

“Whenever I look at a map of India, I always feel that the railways have been able to network this vast country in such a manner that the whole country is united by these lines. It is a wonder of technology and human effort,” he said.

If that was his cause for wonder, he became the cause of pleasant surprise for class IV student Sangeeta Kumari. The little girl from Bihar’s Morena had written to the President telling him that she had been left out of the list of schoolchildren who had earlier met him in Delhi.

Kalam invited her to travel with him today.

“I am happy that the President has called me. I also wanted to see and speak to him as my classmates did,” said a shy Sangeeta, the youngest of three children of Heera Kumar, a farmer.

At Harnaut, the President laid the foundation stone of a Rs 98.74-crore rail coach maintenance factory.

Kumar had made it a point to reach the venue two hours before the start of the programme and supervised the arrangements personally, telling the gathering of more than 5,000 people to move away from the presidential suite stationed there.

“The railway ministry has taken all the necessary clearances and got it passed in Parliament after it was presented in the railway budget 2003-04,” he said by way of an explanation, which no one had demanded, that the project was above reproach.

Kumar possibly had in mind the controversy that is routinely created over railway projects in the minister’s constituency.

“There is no controversy over the project. I came here earlier since it is my constituency,” he said.

If he’s right, the factory will be quite a showpiece — state-of-the-art using the latest concept of integrated maintenance where all types of coaches can be overhauled.

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