The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Threat to vote against budget

New Delhi, Feb. 24: The Left has threatened to vote against the railway budget unless Lalu Prasad modifies his plan for a freight corridor and takes it onward to Calcutta.

In the budget, the corridor starts in Ludhiana and ends in Sonnagar, a little-known place in Bihar.

Critics, like the Left which showed its anger in Parliament itself, said it began nowhere and ended nowhere.

“We will vote against the budget if this is not corrected,” Nilotpal Basu, of the CPM, told reporters.

The proposal runs contrary to an announcement made earlier by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh about a freight corridor from Delhi to Calcutta.

“We have 42 MPs from West Bengal. We are accountable to the people there. The government cannot take us for granted,” said Basu.

BJP members, too, were on their feet, protesting what they believed to be a slight to Gujarat.

But the fuming Left MPs forced ministers like P. Chidambaram to rush to pacify them. The finance minister, according to CPM members, has assured them that the government would correct the error.

“The Bengal chief minister had a discussion with the railway minister. The growth in freight traffic in Bengal is more than the national average. Clearly, Bengal needs a second corridor to cope with this volume,” Basu said.

Lalu Prasad, however, said the Rs 22,000-crore corridor was not his baby and he had no role in leaving Calcutta out.

Railway officials said the plan was to create a hub and then run two branches ' one going towards the coal belt in Jharkhand-Bengal and the other towards the steel belt in Jharkhand.

The officials said, contradicting the Left’s arguments, that extending the corridor to Calcutta would not be profitable.

Basu described the plan as defying logic. “Basically, railways have tried to take on truckers. A modern corridor is meaningless unless it is connected to ports... we will not clear such a proposal at all.”

Lalu Prasad insisted that the project was based on the recommendation of railway consultancy RITES.

Railway Board chairman R.P. Batra said: “A study of the traffic density on the Calcutta route showed that the rate of return on the investment would be too low to justify this investment.”

The CPM is so cut up its politburo issued a statement.

“We call upon the railway minister to assure Parliament and the people that such inadequacies will be corrected during the course of discussions on the budget and more emphasis will be laid on improving the safety of the railways.”

The party, however, believes the government will not allow the Left’s protests to spin out of control. “The government will correct the error. We won’t need to vote against the budget,” an MP said.

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