Mamata Banerjee the MP from South Calcutta outshone Mamata Banerjee the railway minister on Friday.
The Trinamul Congress leader’s third rail budget is by far the best one for the city, bringing to town a trainload of goodies ranging from two new Metro routes and concessions on tickets for students to non-stop trains and a special Yuva service to Delhi.
“It’s actually a long list…A rail budget has never been this good for Calcutta,” said Bhaskar Chaudhuri, a former chief commercial manager of Eastern Railway.
He should know, having tracked rail budgets since the days of A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury, the first railway minister to make things happen for Bengal.
The integrated urban rail network proposed by Mamata includes Metro Railway extensions from Dakshineswar to Barrackpore through Dum Dum and another one between Dum Dum and Barasat. The other proposed rail links are between Dum Dum and Garia through Rajarhat, Majherhat to Diamond Harbour through Kidderpore, Garden Reach, Budge Budge and Joka, and from Park Circus to Bantala.
A senior railway official said from Delhi that feasibility surveys would determine whether the Dum Dum-Garia, Budge Budge-Joka and Park Circus-Bantala links would be part of the Metro or suburban networks.
If all the proposals stay on track — Mamata’s last rail budget in 2001 had also promised a lot but projects like the Garia Metro extension have been delayed by years — commuting in the city paralysed by traffic snarls and a rickety, polluting transport system would become a breeze.
“Modern cities like Singapore have rapid transport systems that do not pollute or cause traffic snarls. The integrated rail network plan for Calcutta aims to upgrade its transport system to that level,” said a senior official of Eastern Railway’s Howrah division.
But railway officials warned of a “big time lag” between the announcement of projects and their implementation.
“Viability studies for projects like the integrated rail network will be taken up over the next few months. The projects will be placed before the Planning Commission for approval only after these studies paint a positive picture,” said an official.
Some of these projects might need more than one study to be considered feasible.
But for Mamata, what mattered the most on Friday was “Maa, Mati, Manush”. Apart from a slew of projects for the city and the state, she proposed a 60 per cent concession on Metro Railway tickets for students up to Class XII as well as those studying in madarsas.
“This is a big bonus. Wish I were eligible too,” said Subhasish Roy, a first-year student of a city college.
A senior railway official said it was the first time that a concession was being offered on Metro tickets apart from the extra rides on smart cards and other time-specific tickets. “Special monthly tickets will be issued to students after Parliament passes the budget,” he added.
Students will also benefit from the proposed weekly, air-conditioned Yuva train on the Calcutta-Delhi route. Four of the 12 proposed Duronto trains — non-stop services from point to point — will run twice a week on the Calcutta-Amritsar, Sealdah-New Delhi, Howrah-Mumbai and Howrah-Delhi routes.
Mamata has also promised eight other superfast, inter-city and long-distance trains to and from the city. But railway officials say these trains might not be feasible.
“Sealdah and Howrah cannot handle more trains. The Calcutta (Chitpur) terminal is also not equipped to handle so many trains,” an official said.
The Howrah, Sealdah and Calcutta terminals are to be upgraded and a new passenger terminal will come up at Majherhat.
The budget also proposes upgrading the two railway hospitals in the city — Garden Reach and BR Singh — into medical colleges.