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Saturday, 26 February 2011 00:00
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Purists will pillory railway minister Mamata Banerjee for getting the Railways further offtrack, for growing at a rate that’s less than half that of GDP (revenues rose 8.9% in 2010-11 as compared to nominal GDP growth of 20%), with little prospects of this rising much (2011-12 projections are 12.6% compared to a likely 21-22% for GDP). Mamata, however, has her sights set higher. As she said last year, ‘we cannot and should not have a myopic view of viability … another … consideration was social responsibility’. So, apart from the usual sops for West Bengal like a coach factory at Singur and a software centre in Darjeeling, there are special projects for the Northeast where the Trinamool has just won 5 seats in Arunachal and 1 in Manipur—all state capitals are to be connected by rail in 7 years, a diesel loco centre is to be set up in Manipur, and an industrial park in Bongaigaon. Around 10,000 homes are to be provided for those living near railway tracks, a wagon unit is to be set up in Kerala (along with 12 new trains), another in Karnataka ...

If this is a lot better than last year’s promise of 552 hospitals, 50 Kendriya Vidyalayas and 10 residential schools, it’s because finance minister Pranab Mukherjee doesn’t have either the large heart or large mind that Banerjee said on Friday was needed to ‘undertake big works’. He sanctioned a budgetary support of just Rs 20,000 crore against her demand for Rs 39,000 crore, so the Railways need to borrow an extra Rs 10,000 crore over the usual levels. The operating ratio has worsened from 76.3% in 2007-08 to an estimated 92.1% this year. With less money, Banerjee has decided to contribute less to future investment and even safety, probably minor considerations when weighed against the political capital she hopes to get. With contributions to the Depreciation Reserve Fund falling to Rs 5,800 crore in 2010-11 as compared to the budgeted Rs 7,000 crore, the fund’s balance is down from Rs 3,336 crore last year to a projected Rs 72 crore next year. The Railway Development Fund’s opening balance is to fall from Rs 3,023 crore to Rs 60 crore and the Pension Fund from Rs 1,524 crore to Rs 217 crore. With Mamata’s budget so focused on elections, it’ll be interesting to see if Mukherjee goes the same way on Monday.

Last Updated ( Thursday, 22 March 2012 06:26 )

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