The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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New Delhi, Feb. 26: Has Laloo Prasad Yadav finally stepped off the beaten track and emerged as minister of railways for the Union of India, not the state of Bihar'

By announcing few trains and fewer new lines for his home state, Laloo Prasad appears to have bucked the trend that his predecessors like Bengal's Mamata Banerjee and Bihar's Nitish Kumar had set.

But hidden in the fine print of his announcements today is a Rs 1,042-crore allocation for East Central Railway, which encompasses Bihar and was created by Nitish a few years back by breaking up Eastern Railway.

No wonder neighbouring Orissa's chief minister Naveen Patnaik joined MPs from Kerala in claiming that his state had been left out in the cold.

The allocation for the Bihar belt is a third more than the money given to Eastern Railway, triple the amount given to South Eastern Railway and nearly double that given to Southern Railway.

After the North East Frontier Railway, an exploratory railway now being built from scratch, the zone with the highest allocation for new lines is East Central. Some Rs 111 crore will be spent on new tracks.

In sharp contrast, the money allocated for new lines in Eastern Railway is Rs 37.15 crore, in Northern Railway Rs 41 crore, Southern Railway Rs 5 crore and South Eastern Railway Rs 3 crore.

The story is repeated in virtually every sphere. One of the highest spends on track renewals at Rs 263 crore again is in East Central. The biggest expenditure on bridges goes to the Bihar zone at Rs 94 crore.

But the centrepiece of Laloo Prasad's woo-Bihar strategy is a railway call centre in Patna, a wheel plant at Chhapra and two railway concrete sleeper plants in Sitamarhi and Madhepura ' projects which should help create about 2,000 jobs in employment-starved Bihar.

An outlay of Rs 119 crore has been kept aside for telecom works in East Central, of which the call centre will be a part.

An amount of Rs 53 crore, the highest outlay for workshops in any zone, has been kept aside for the Bihar slot, and this is likely to be the initial spend on setting up the Chhapra plant.

'The move is cleverer and far more subtle than Nitish Kumar's ham-handed decision to revive the Bihar-based Bharat Wagons while ignoring other PSUs like Burn Standard that created a controversy. This does not,' said a Railway Board member.

Nitish also created a lot of bad blood by trying to get regional recruitment boards of various railways to hire people from his state in large numbers.

Laloo Prasad has decided against such a move.

Instead, railway policemen will be hired in large numbers to fill vacancies through field offices.

Last year, Laloo Prasad ended the monopoly of Wheeler & Co by proposing to farm out stalls at railway stations to new booksellers. This year, he has proposed to appoint new catering contractors to run small units at stations. They will be selected soon with a 25 to 49 per cent reservation clause in various categories.

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