| AASU activists burn placards in Guwahati on Friday during a protest against the railway budget. (PTI)
Feb. 25: Manipur got the promise of its first train, probably as Mamata Banerjees gift for Trinamul Congresss byelection win in the state, but the Northeast as a whole has been disappointed, even terming todays railway budget visionless.
The railway minister announced a diesel locomotive centre for Manipur, a state yet to see trains.
Imphal will soon be connected. As an advance planning, the ministry proposes to set up a diesel locomotive centre in Manipur, said Mamata.
The rail link to Imphal from Silchar is likely to take no less than five years but Mamata has promised that all state capitals in the Northeast will be rail-connected within seven years.
For now, construction is in progress between Tupul and Jiribam.
Mamatas sop comes days after her party opened its account in Manipur when Konthoujam Sarat Singh defeated Congress candidate Sapam Ranjan Singh in the Konthoujam Assembly bypoll.
Regardless of the benefits, political pundits read her move as the Trinamul chiefs attempts to spread her roots in the Northeast.
In 2009, Trinamul won five Assembly seats in Arunachal Pradesh and since then opened a state unit in Assam as well.
Several railway lines for Assam and surveys in Arunachal Pradesh have been ordered.
She also proposed a non-lapsable fund to fuel pending projects in the region.
Mamata definitely has Assam on her mind.
We have been getting feelers from the Barak Valley for the past six months, but as of now nothing has been decided (whether Trinamul will field candidates in Assam), said MP Sultan Ahmed.
But we could contest in Assam, said Ahmed.
Hence, Mamata showered goodies on Bodo areas. She proposed a rail industrial park in New Bongaigaon and a Rajya Rani Express from Kokrajhar to Jogighopa.
There were other projects for the region.
A new daily express train from Guwahati to Dimapur, guage conversion for the Karimganj-Mahisasan line and even a new survey to include Mizoram into the rail network.
Surveys were conducted in places like the Rupai-Parshuramkund via Mahadevpur, Namsai and Chingkham which would mean getting railways upstream to the Lohit river system and closer to China.
Another exercise to please Arunachal voters is a survey on North Lakhimpur-Along-Silapathar, which would be taken up in the 12th Plan, she said.
Mamata announced the Kavi Guru Express in memory of Rabindranath Tagore from Guwahati to Jaipur via Kokrajhar and surveys for Dimapur-Tizit in Nagaland and to provide rail connectivity in Jaintia Hills of Meghalaya by surveying the Jowai-Lokro stretch.
Surveys also include Tirap in Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya capital Shillong.
The Northeast, however, is not impressed.
The railway minister has not totally ignored the concerns of the Northeast but she has just announced some cosmetic changes and made hollow promises. She has not provided the requisite budgetary support, making a mockery of her own Vision 2020 document which speaks of inclusive development, FiNER president R.S. Joshi said.
He said the minister had announced a masterplan for the development of the Northeast in the last budget but it is yet to take off.
The minister has done nothing to implement last years announcements such as setting up of a wagon manufacturing plant in Guwahati. The locomotive centre in Manipur is just another promise, he added.
Joshi said the political leadership and the people of the region should air their concerns and resentments strongly so that pending projects, which enjoy the status of national importance, are completed on a war-footing.
The joint convener of the Assam Chamber of Commerce, Vijay Gupta, described the budget as visionless for the Northeast and one that had been prepared with an eye on Bengal Assembly polls.
Railway connectivity is still a far cry in the region though it has been talked about for a long time, he said.
The president of the Manipur unit of Trinamul Congress, Kim Gangte, on the other hand, thanked the railway minister for deciding to set up the locomotive centre in the state.
Most, however, said Mamatas statement of connecting all the state capitals in the Northeast, except Sikkim, was nothing new.
Though the ministry had announced a world class railway station for Guwahati, among others, she today admitted that not much headway had be achieved because of high costs.
Last year, the minister had announced an allocation of Rs 400 crore for the New Moinaguri-Jogighopa New Broad Gauge Railway Line.
However, the joint convener of New Moinaguri-Jogighopa New Broad Gauge Railway Line Demand Committee, Tazmul Haque, today said only meagre funds had been sanctioned, delaying the project much behind schedule.
He, however, thanked the minister for sanctioning inter-city train between Dhubri and Silghat.
The All Assam Students Union burned copies of the railway budget and shouted slogans against the railway minister across the state.
The union alleged that the budget has once again thrown cold water on the hopes and aspirations of the people of the state.