New Delhi: Shortly after tabling Rail Budget 2011-12 in the Parliament, Union Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee on Friday said that she was “extremely happy to present a people’s friendly budget”.
In an interview to a private news channel, the Railway Minister said, “The budget that I have given to you, no one can give. What I have done for the Railways, no one has. I can challenge this. The Prime Minister has hailed the budget as a commendable effort.”
Asked if that meant a chit of no-confidence for former Rail ministers like Lalu, Mamata said, “I did not say that. I have good relations with him.”
Dismissing the question on financial crunch that the Indian Railways is witnessing, Mamata said, “Financial system is good in Railways. There is only an extra burden on the Ministry because of the Sixth Pay Commission.”
“Half of the government employees are Railway employees; there is a problem with the allocation of funds. But we have fully paid dividends, cleared the recruitment backlog of the last ten years. Railways is fully viable and has vast potential,” she added.
Although the Railway Minister announced no hike in passenger fares, she had been particularly silent on the freight charges in her budget speech, casting doubts over Railways financial health.
With the Indian economy growing at over 8%, Railway freight growth is way behind at around 3.6%. When asked about the discrepancy, Mamata refused to comment saying she did not want to be trapped in the jugglery of jargon. The Railway Minister maintained that she was not hiding any facts as these were not prepared by her.
On being asked whether she could do justice to the Railway Ministry by being away from the Centre and shuttling between West Bengal and New Delhi, Mamata said, “I have not given time to my party. I have spent more time for the Ministry and I regret for not having spent much for the party and West Bengal. But this is because of routine work. For example, you may be based in Delhi but go to Mumbai for work”
Mamata maintained that her party Trinamool Congress had no influence on the affairs of the Railways or on her ministry’s policy decisions. “We are extremely transparent about this. Not one member of the Trinamool Party ever visits the Rail Bhawan. Not one. This is the beauty.”
On the question of choosing West Bengal over New Delhi, Banerjee said, “That is a policy decision. I can’t tell you about the policy decisions here. But I am from West Bengal so I will have to pay attention there also.”
Mamata cleverly evaded the question about her preference when asked to choose between being the Railway Minister or the West Bengal Chief Minister. She simply said, “If people decide that I should be in Bengal, then I shall have to abide by their mandate. I will continue to work for my people. India is my country and Bengal is my state. I will prefer both for the sake of working for the people.”