Calcutta, Dec. 17: Mamata Banerjee may not be the railway minister any longer — she has been out of the job for nearly two years now — but a section of her supporters don’t appear to know yet.
As a result, the railway has had to do a humiliating backtracking. The rail ministry has asked the telecom department to halt outgoing calls from a phone at Ranaghat station after failing to dissuade Mamata’s supporters from making free calls.
Unable to convince the supporters that Mamata was no longer minister, the railway authorities were forced to do the “unthinkable” a few days ago, officials said.
The Trinamul Congress supporters’ logic was simple: “Amader didi mantri, amader keu phone korte badha dite pare na (Our elder sister is the minister, no one can stop us from making calls from railway phones).”
A senior ministry official told The Telegraph: “We have told the telecom department to withdraw the facility of outgoing calls from a connection that was installed at the Ranaghat station enquiry.
“We know the common man is going to suffer, railway officials used that phone for details about the latest position of trains. But the railways can’t go on paying the bills run up by hooligans.”
The last bill the ministry had to pay was “close to a five-figure amount”, officials said. The bills kept mounting and the ministry continued paying till it realised they were becoming unaffordable.
“Usually, the bill for that line should not be much, especially as there are internal railway lines working round the clock,” an official said.
“But, with strict orders asking us to keep down expenses and the bills for that line rising progressively, we were forced to do something we had not done in the state before,” he said.
Officials said a Trinamul man leading the unit near the Ranaghat station was behind the goings-on. His father was a railway employee who retired some time ago.
“Every evening, someone would come up, say he was sent by ‘Parthada’ and make long-distance calls,” an official said.
The man, believed to be “very close” to a Trinamul MP from the region, was confronted several times by railway employees. But, faced with threats, they backed out. “They merely informed the Sealdah division headquarters that they could not solve the problem in the absence of any support from law-enforcing agencies,” a senior railway official said.
“It was getting difficult for both the headquarters and the Ranaghat rail employees to explain the astronomical amount accrued at the year-end,” he said.
The local Trinamul leadership admitted that there was a “problem”. “But we did not want to intervene because of his affinity with a party MP,” a Nadia district leader said.