“I presented the budget and have to ensure that it gets passed duly”
Unfazed by mounting pressure from the Trinamool Congress to quit the Union Cabinet over the passenger fare hike, Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi on Saturday prepared himself for the debate on the Railway budget in the Lok Sabha on Monday and to ensure its passage.
Mr. Trivedi arrived in the Rail Bhavan in the afternoon and held a meeting of the full Railway Board. “They briefed me on the thrust areas in preparing my speech for the debate which usually is spread over two days.”
Had it not been for the controversy, the debate would have commenced on Thursday itself, which later was rescheduled for Friday. But that has now been postponed to Monday and, if Mr. Trivedi were to have things his way, he would reply to it on Tuesday.
The debate will commence after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's reply to the Motion of Thanks to the President's address of the joint session of Parliament.
Mr. Trivedi's resignation may well have been put on hold to avoid any embarrassment to the Prime Minister till his speech in the Lok Sabha on Monday. The indications were he was unlikely to quit, notwithstanding calls from his party colleagues from Kolkata earlier in the day to tender his resignation.
Significantly, Mr. Trivedi came over to the Railway Bhavan after his talk with party chief whip in the Lok Sabha Kalyan Banerjee and held a meeting with all top officials, received a delegation of trade unions associated with the Railways which expressed its concern over the demands for a fare rollback, and talked to reporters, who arrived there, at length.
“I'd be failing in my duty if I don't prepare for it [reply to debate and passage of the budget]. I've a job to perform. I presented the budget and have to ensure that it gets passed duly.”
His officers reportedly brought to his notice that rollback of fares would lead to a loss of at least Rs. 4,000 crore, almost the same amount allocated for completion of projects listed for West Bengal. All these projects, which include improvement of rail tracks, will be stopped the Rail Board feared.
According to sources, Mr. Trivedi held a meeting of the Board on March 9 to finalise his budget proposals and even had a talk with party chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee later the same day.
He made it clear that he would hold the fort till the last second as he happened to be the general of the organisation and not let the 1.4-million workforce which petitioned the Prime Minister for the second time expressing its dissent over politicising the Railways.
The five federations and associations maintained that the hike was necessary for sustaining the Railways and improving infrastructure. They also expressed their anguish at making Mr. Trivedi a scapegoat and hoped the Prime Minister would intervene in the matter and ensure that politics was not allowed to have its way. They warned of resorting to an agitation.
Mr. Trivedi saw no reason for him to put in his papers when both the Prime Minister and Ms. Banerjee had not asked him to do so. “Do you think I'm mad to go to the Prime Minister and submit my resignation?”
He said the Prime Minister was solidly behind him and described the latter as a man of conviction. “He has not told me to resign.”
Replying to a question whether he still belonged to the TMC, Mr. Trivedi said he belonged to the country first and the party next. “In politics you don't have master and slaves. All are colleagues.”
Asked about his prospective successor (Mukul Roy), Mr. Trivedi said “God help him.”
He also ruled out the possibility of fare rollback as the Railways would not allow it.