The CPI(M) on Wednesday alleged that Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee was going ahead with “wholesale privatisation” of the railways and privatising “cream” projects which would substantially reduce earnings and “halt” their progress.

Most projects announced for West Bengal would not see the light of day as had happened with several projects announced last year, CPI(M) leader Basudeb Acharia alleged.

Observing that Ms. Banerjee had twice in her budget speech said that the PSU would not be privatised, he, however, told reporters here, “There is enough indication in the budget that she is going ahead with wholesale privatisation.”

Commenting on proposals related to the dedicated freight corridors, he alleged the western corridor, which was “the cream” in terms of earnings, would be given to private hands and developed through public private partnership (PPP).

“By dishing out major share of profitable routes to private parties, Railways will not have enough earnings or funds to invest for its expansion and bring its future growth to a halt,” he said.

Mr. Acharia, long time chairman of the Standing Committee on Railways who left the post after Ms. Banerjee took over as the minister, said, “If construction of rail lines is given to private hands, only those projects having positive rate of return will be taken up.”

Of the 286 projects announced by Ms. Banerjee, 143, mostly located in backward areas, had a negative rate of return and these “will not be developed by the private sector”, the CPI(M) leader alleged.

Maintaining that the Railways operating ratio, which indicates its performance, was estimated to rise from 75 per cent in 2007-08 to 92 per cent in 2010-11, he said this meant that the PSU would spend Rs. 92 to earn Rs. 100, thereby lowering its revenue.

On projects announced for West Bengal, Mr. Acharia said many of them in the current year’s budget were yet to see the light of the day while several others were yet to be cleared by the Planning Commission and Cabinet. “A number of these projects will not start in several years and uncertainty will continue to prevail over their fate.”

“These (projects for West Bengal) are mere political announcements. Most of them will not materialise like those announced last year,” he said giving examples of last budget’s proposals to set up an electrical multiple unit (EMU) factory in Kanchrapara and a thermal power plant in Adra.

Noting the “high rate” of accidents in the recent past, the CPI(M) leader said these were primarily caused by “over use of rail assets and no proper maintenance of coaches, tracks or signalling system. The accidents have been caused by heightened congestion and oversaturation of routes.”

The allocation on all these issues, including modernisation of signalling system, has not been enhanced. The targets for next year for constructing new lines and track renewal have remained the same as this year, he said.

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