Dinesh Trivedi at the Delhi party office on Tuesday. Picture by Ramakant Kushwaha
New Delhi, Feb. 26: Trinamul MPs today forced Pawan Kumar Bansal, looking to turn the page on the railways’ wobbly finances, to skip a few pages of his budget speech.
The MPs trooped into the well of the Lok Sabha and disrupted the minister’s budget presentation, alleging his proposals were an insult to Bengal and “drafted out of vengeance” directed at Mamata Banerjee.
“Wapas lo, wapas lo, (take it back, take it back),” the Trinamul members led by Tamluk MP Subhendu Adhikari chanted.
Some Samajwadi members joined in, alleging Uttar Pradesh had been ignored, as did some MPs of the Left and the Shiv Sena, though they voiced their unhappiness from their seats. A visibly upset Sonia Gandhi was seen urging the protesters to return to their seats.
Bansal struggled to speak in the din but eventually gave up, winding up his speech without reading the last few pages.
Old-timers termed the protest “unprecedented”, saying they couldn’t recollect another instance of MPs rushing to the Speaker’s chair and demanded a budget’s withdrawal.
Bansal later admitted to have been taken aback. “I was surprised by the Trinamul Congress’s protest… I admit that 98 per cent of the budget is not going to Bengal,” he said, appearing to suggest that the needs of other states also had to be addressed.
But Bansal denied Trinamul’s charges and said none of the projects in Bengal would be shelved. “We do not refer to all ongoing projects in the speech.”
The minister was speaking after claims by Trinamul MP Saugata Roy of a “deliberate effort to undermine projects announced by Mamata Banerjee as railway minister”. “The budget has been done with vengeance against Bengal,” Roy, a former Union minister, said.
Allocations for key projects in Bengal are meagre, Saugata Roy said, alleging this was done to ensure the plans never see the light of day. For the Kanchrapara coach factory near Calcutta mooted by Mamata, the allocation is only Rs 2 crore against a requirement of Rs 700 crore, he said.
“Similar treatment has been meted out to other key projects. Meagre allocations mean the projects will never be completed.”
Saugata Roy also appeared to take a dig at the Congress by terming the budget anti-aam aadmi, using its mascot and warning “the party in power” at the Centre would have to pay a price.
Saugata Roy spoke with former railway minister and party colleague Dinesh Trivedi by his side, whom Bansal was seen to have alluded to today in his budget speech as “my predecessor”.
Trivedi, however, chose to stay tight-lipped. “I will not speak anything. The party’s view is my view. The party has authorised Saugata Roy to speak,” he said when told that Bansal had accepted proposals he had made in his budget last year. These included a fuel surcharge and a Tariff Regulatory Authority.
Mukul Roy, who succeeded Trivedi, was also silent and only Saugata Roy, never a rail minister himself, spoke. Trinamul insiders said the protest strategy, with Bengal as the rallying cry, had been decided earlier to score points over the Congress ahead of the forthcoming state rural polls.
The Congress hit back by suggesting the Mamata Banerjee government’s land policy had slowed the progress of some rail projects in Bengal.
“Mamata Banerjee’s government could not acquire land for many railway projects and so there was very little progress. It has led the railways to curtail allocation in some projects due to unsatisfactory progress,” Bengal party chief and MP Pradip Bhattacharya said.
The CPM termed today’s budget anti-people. Party MP Sitaram Yechury said the it had hit passengers by “camouflaging the fare hike” and increased inflationary pressures by hiking freight charges.