Friday, August 24, 2007

Kerala, Bengal get 5 rly projects in a day

Business Standard, AUg 24, 2007

Saubhadra Chatterji / New Delhi August 24, 2007

The CPI(M) has always helped me. Everything will be sorted out: Lalu
Even as pressure from its Left allies in Parliament mounted over the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government is making Left Front-ruled states major recipients of its largesse, courtesy the Indian Railways.

On Tuesday, Railway Minister Lalu Prasad promised to address Kerala’s concerns and cleared five projects for West Bengal. Four of these were sanctioned for the eastern state after 15 Left MPs met Lalu Prasad.

Meanwhile, Kerala Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan received assurances from Prasad, whom he met today, for a new rail zone in his state.

“Kerala is my favourite state. The CPI(M) has always helped me. Everything will be sorted out,” Prasad said after his meeting with Achuthanandan.

Kerala has been protesting against reports that a new railway division will be set up in Salem in neighbouring Tamil Nadu, bifurcating the profitable Palakkad railway division, which could result in a serious political setback for the CPI (M) government in Kerala.

Sensing this as an opportunity to get concessions, Achuthanandan did not ask Prasad to cancel the bifurcation but requested a new division, which has significant job-creating potential.

Of the pending projects in West Bengal that have caught Prasad’s attention, at least two have been on the agenda for years.

The biggest and most important of them is the conversion of the circular railway lines at Dumdum airport to a metro rail to facilitate better access to the city’s airport.

Lalu also approved a new train from Kolkata to Jhansi via stations like Barrackpore, Kanpur and Meerut.

“The idea is to connect all those places associated with the 1857 mutiny and Mangal Pandey in India’s 60th anniversary of Independence. Prasad has given in-principle approval,” said Basudev Acharya, leader of the CPI (M) in Parliament.

A few days ago, the Railway Ministry had agreed to start an overnight express train connecting West Bengal’s far-flung district headquarters of Balurghat with Kolkata.

While Prasad’s Budget speech in the peaceful month of February offered three trains to Bengal, the nuclear crisis has given the state two new trains.

This apart, an important gauge-conversion project between Krishnanagar and Nabadwip, awaiting clearance for years, got priority in Tuesday’s meeting.

Prasad has also given assurances on ways in which unauthorised hawkers, a Left vote-bank, could be licensed after the Calcutta High Court had banned their entry in rail stations.

West Bengal has been a major recipient of UPA largesse in the past month. Recently, Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL) approved the proposal to re-open the iron works plant at Kulti in Bardhaman district that had been closed during the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) regime.

Even here, the government accepted the Left’s demand that it should be taken over by SAIL instead of a private party.

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