New Delhi: Refuting charges that her budget was "populist or West Bengal-oriented", Mamata Banerjee while presenting the Railway Budget on Friday retorted that she had kept the interest of the nation in mind and given projects to every region. (Agencies)
Countering CPI (M)'s allegations that she had made Railways bankrupt, she said, "Their government (in West Bengal) is bankrupt. It has a debt of Rs 2 lakh crore. Charity begins at home."
On charges of populism, Railway Minister Banerjee said, "They are opportunist people. If this is pro-people let it be populist. When they know they cannot fight they make all such allegations. We have given projects to entire country including Jammu and Kashmir, Manipur and Assam. Bengal is not outside India."
She said her opponents were "till yesterday shouting that Railways will not be able to pay dividends. Today you see the magic. Our financial performance is strong. We are suffering only on account of Sixth Pay Commission. Remember almost half of all government employees belong to Railways."
On the proposed rail coach factory in Singur where protests by Trinamool Congress led to the shifting of the Tata's Nano project out of the state, she defended the project saying it will require only 100 acres of land whereas Tatas had wanted 1000 acres.
Asked how she could manage the finances without raising fares, she said, "Burdening the passenger is an easy option. But our employees tried hard to raise internal generations and also undertook a series of austerity measures. Our loadings have gone up. Passenger earnings have also increased and next year there will be stronger growth," Banerjee said.
She blamed 'rail-roko' agitations and disruptions caused by Maoists for the loss in revenue saying Railways have become soft target for all agitations including one by the Gujjars in Rajasthan.
"But law and order is not in our hand. It is with the state government," she said when asked about the train hijack by Maoists last year on the West Bengal-Jharkhand border.
She also referred to the problem in coal loadings in Karnataka and Orissa which caused a loss of Rs 2000 crore.
On PPP projects, she said there are 85 PPP proposals which are under consideration. "We are creating a single window system for expeditious clearance of such projects."
Claiming to have made a record of sorts in laying new lines, she said the earlier average of constructing 180 km of new track had been broken. "For the first time in railway history we have constructed 700 km and we will touch 1000 km next year," she said.
Asked about the introduction of Super AC class, she said it is a business proposition to earn more revenue.
Mamata loses cool
During her third budget presentation Mamata Banerjee lost her cool several times as she faced loud protests from MPs from Bihar, Punjab and Andhra Pradesh who alleged that she had ignored their states while announcing schemes for West Bengal.
Mid-way through Banerjee's nearly 90-minute rail budget presentation in Lok Sabha, JD(U) members from Bihar interrupted her and asked her the status of the projects announced last year. A visibly angry Banerjee said, "What is this?"
During one of the numerous disruptions, she said, "Don't shout."
JD (U) members were joined by leaders from Shiromani Akali Dal and TDP, among others, who alleged that Banerjee was preparing for the forthcoming assembly elections in West
Bengal as a bulk of her schemes and projects were for the state.
While Banerjee sat down in a huff and tried to justify her plans to UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, who was seated next to her, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Bansal and his former deputy V Narayansamy walked to the opposition benches and tried to pacify the JD(U) members.
Some of the opposition MPs even walked into the well of the House.
The attendance in both the Treasury and Opposition benches was not as expected with several members, including Rahul Gandhi, Home Minister P Chidambaram, Agriculture
Minister Sharad Pawar and Congress MP Raj Babbar walked in late.
When the disruptions began, quite a few members walked out. BJP MP Rajnath Singh and Chidambaram left while Banerjee was half-way through her speech.
Led by Rahul Gandhi, Congress' young turks including Sachin Pilot, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Jitin Prasada, Deependra Singh Hooda, Priya Dutt, Sandeep Dixit and Milind Deora sat in one corner of the House, discussing among themselves.
The Railway Budget presentation did see some light moments, which included recitation of some couplets by Banerjee.
"Hum aah bhi bharte hai to ho jaate hai badnaam, who katl bhi karte hai to charcha nahi hoti (Even a sigh from me invites a bad name while even if they commit a murder it is
not discussed)," she said.
When Banerjee was busy rattling names of new trains and projects, Speaker Meira Kumar intervened and said, "Please don't skip the beautiful couplets you have written."
This goaded her to recite two more couplets, both on soldiers who sacrificed their life for the country.
New Delhi: Refuting charges that her budget was "populist or West Bengal-oriented", Mamata Banerjee while presenting the Railway Budget on Friday retorted that she had kept the interest of the nation in mind and given projects to every region.