The Opposition on Wednesday came down heavily on Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee for frittering away Railways’ energies on non-core areas like setting up bottling water plants, sports academies and cultural centres.

Critiquing her second Railway budget as a member of the United Progressive Alliance government, the Bharatiya Janata Party noted that there was no forward movement on any of the promises she made last year. “There is no larger vision or policy” on expansion of the Railways.”

The BJP questioned the Minister’s claim that there would be no increase in fares. The extension of the tatkal service to parcels and freight would imply an increase in freight charges through the back door.

“No accountability”

The BJP also sought to expose the fissures within the UPA. Twice in its one-page critique, the party said Ms. Banerjee functioned autonomously and not on the basis of collective responsibility. “There is obviously no accountability that the Rail Minister has to either the Prime Minister or the Council of Ministers. She continues to operate as an isolated island.”

Describing the budget as “unbalanced, disproportionate and unreal,” Communist Party of India leader Gurudas Dasgupta said it was politically biased with an eye on the coming elections in West Bengal. Though glad that the State had got so many projects and schemes, he wondered whether the Minister acted as a representative of the country.

Questioning the inclusion of schemes yet to be cleared by the Planning Commission, the CPI leader was also critical of the Railways entering non-core areas like setting up cultural centres. Referring to the slew of announcements on new rail links, Mr. Dasgupta wanted to know how the Minister proposed to finance them. “She is utilising the Railway Ministry to further her political ambitions.”

However, the Congress congratulated Ms. Banerjee on continuing with the UPA’s unbroken track record of zero increase in passenger and freight fares. “This is the seventh year in a row that the UPA has managed to come out with a Railway budget that does not burden the masses,” said Congress spokesman Shakeel Ahmed.

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