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Nitish rules out review of decision to bifurcate E. Rly.

NEW DELHI JULY 3. The post-Cabinet expansion blues continue to bedevil the Vajpayee Government, as the Trinamool Congress — partner in the ruling National Democratic Alliance — remains insistent on picking up a quarrel over the bifurcation of Eastern Railway.

The battle spilled over to the meeting of the Parliamentary Committee on Railways today with the Trinamool MPs, along with those of the Left Front, staging a walkout. The issue of the Eastern Railway being deprived of its money-minting divisions, which have been attached to the newly-created Hajipur headquarters of the East Central Zone, threatens to snowball into a no-holds-barred "Bihar versus Bengal'' fight.

The Trinamool Congress leader, Mamata Banerjee, has linked the issue of reversing the decision to bifurcate the Eastern zone to her re-entry into the Union Cabinet. She has refused to join the Cabinet though the Vajpayee-Advani leadership apparently wanted to offer the Coal and Mines portfolio to her.

The development prompted the Railway Minister, Nitish Kumar, to call on the Deputy Prime Minister, L. K. Advani, this evening and explain what was behind the creation of new zones. Though the meeting prompted speculation over a review of the decision, Mr. Kumar firmly ruled out any such action.

``There is no question of setting up any governmental group to look into the decision or undertake any kind of review. Not a single inch of West Bengal's territory is being taken away by this decision,'' Mr. Kumar told The Hindu after meeting Mr. Advani.

In his recent letter to the West Bengal Chief Minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the Minister had defended his decision, saying the move was not ill-advised operationally. "In fact, the revised jurisdictions have been made so as to provide smoother movement of traffic, as well as to provide better control, and improve efficiency of the system,'' he said.

The walkout from the Parliamentary Consultative Committee meeting was staged by Basudeb Acharia and Anil Basu (CPI-M), Joachim Baxla (RSP) and Amar Roy Pradhan (AIFB) who demanded that the notification to set up the new zone be withdrawn and a committee of experts be set up to study the viability of carving out new zones. The Trinamool Congress leader, Sudip Bandopadhyay, demanded that Mr. Kumar ``review'' the decision and put it on hold till the task was complete.

Nitish rules out review of decision to bifurcate E. Rly.

Addressing a press conference, the Left Front MPs, including Nilotpal Basu and Hannan Mollah, said it was unfortunate that the issue was being turned into a "Bengal versus Bihar'' affair. The Left was opposed to the creation of any new zone and distressed over the manner in which the issue was taken up, as if it was an internal affair of the NDA.

The Left MPs insisted that they had opposed the creation of new zones when Ram Vilas Paswan had brought it up as Railway Minister in the United Front Government, which was being supported by the Left parties. Their basic objection was on the ground of economic viability and incurring of additional expenditure when railway projects often suffered due to lack of funds.

The MPs said that an all-party delegation from West Bengal would meet the Prime Minister and the Railway Minister next week to convey the feelings of the people of the State.

Addressing a separate press conference, Mr. Bandopadhyay wondered what prompted Mr. Kumar to notify a decision taken six years ago by a different Government. He also took exception to the burning of effigies of Ms. Banerjee in Patna, saying that it was "in bad taste."

Both the Samata Party and the Trinamool Congress maintained officially that there was no communication between the Defence Minister, George Fernandes, and Ms. Banerjee today.

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