DECCAN HERALD Thursday, September 28, 2000


Resentment over Railway's attitude


If the CPI(M)-led Left Front in neighbouring West Bengal is annoyed with Trinamool Congress president Mamata Banerjee for her attempts to topple its Government, the political parties in Orissa are up in arms against Union Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee for a different reason -- her Ministry`s step-motherly attitude towards the State. The Congress(I)`s State unit observed 'Orissa Bundh` recently in protest against the Railway Ministry`s negligence towards the State, particularly under Ms Banerjee`s leadership.

Interestingly, members of the ruling BJD, an ally of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Government at the Centre, have also been criticising the Railway Minister for working against the interests of Orissa. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik had written to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee drawing his attention towards the Railway Ministry`s continued apathy towards Orissa. Though not as vocal as their BJD colleagues, the members of the State BJP unit have also reacted against Ms Banerjee and her Ministry`s attitude owards the State. It may be recalled that the BJP MPs from Orissa had lodged their protest with the Prime Minister after the presentation of the Railway budget.

The political parties in the State are particularly upset over the Railway Ministry`s delaying tactic in setting up the East Coast Railway (ECR) zone. In the Railway budget this year, only Rs 30 lakh has been earmarked for the Rs 41 crore 67 lakh new railway zone which is yet to be made fully functional though foundation stone was laid on August 8, 1996. During the last four years, only Rs six crore has been spent for the project. Ironically, the official notification for the new railway zone with its headquarters in Bhubaneswar is yet to be issued though the same has already been done for two other new railway zones -- Hazipur in Bihar and Jaipur in Rajasthan -- which were announced along with the ECR Zone.

The Orissa Government is more aggrieved over the issue as it has already sanctioned more than 39 acres of land in Bhubaneswar for the new railway zone free of cost besides releasing 700 government quarters.

The Chief Minister, in his letter to Mr Vajpayee, had particularly mentioned about the new railway zone. Let alone making the new zone fully functional, the Railway Ministry has now downgraded the post of ECR zonal chief. The Railway Board has recently posted an officer of the rank of Senior Administrative Grade (SAG) -- three rungs below the rank of General Manager -- to head the ECR. The officer who was previously heading the new zone was in the rank of General Manager. When the new zone was set up four years back, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) had reportedly been signed between the South-Eastern Railways (SER) and the ECR that the head of the new zone would be an officer in the rank of General Manager.

Interestingly, the Railway Board downgraded the post soon after the Chief Minister had written to the Prime Minister. This has given an opportunity to Mr Patnaik`s detractors to ridicule him on the issue. ''The Chief Minister should now stop writting letters to the Centre as they carry no value``, said sacked BJD leader Bijoy Mohapatra. He warned that the people in the State would not tolerate this type of humiliation for long and there will be violent protest if the new railway zone would not be made functional soon.

The State Assembly has now decided to intervene on the matter. Assembly Speaker Sarat Kumar Kar, who heads a House Committee on Railways, has summoned the SER General Manager to appear before the House Committee to explain the reasons behind the delay in making the ECR zone fully functional. Mr Kar has also gone on record saying that if necessary, other top officials including the Chairman of the Railway Board would be summoned to appear before the House Committee to explain the Railways` neglect towards Orissa.

While writing a hard-hitting letter on behalf of the Speaker, the Secretary of the Orissa Assembly, Mr J P Das has reminded the SER General Manager that the State has always been neglected and marginalised by the Railways though Orissa continues to be a vital link between major cities in the country besides providing the SER exchequer huge funds. The SER earns maximum revenue from Orissa. The Talcher railway station in the undivided Dhenkanal District alone gives the SER nearly Rs one crore everyday for transportation of coal from the nearby coalfields. Mr Das has warned the General Manager that any move detrimental to the interests of the State may force the all-party House Committee to invoke its extraordinary power by ''booking`` privilege against the Railway authorities.

Copyright, 1999 The Printers (Mysore)Ltd.
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