Nod for Rail Budget

Special Correspondent

Ministry not discriminating against any State: Lalu Prasad

AIADMK alleges discrimination in projects for Tamil Nadu No intention to bring in private companies: Lalu Asks States to help maintain law and order along railway lines

NEW DELHI: Railway Minister Lalu Prasad on Saturday assured members of the Rajya Sabha that his Ministry did not discriminate against any State.

"The railways belongs to the entire country," he said, particularly addressing the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam members from Tamil Nadu. The AIADMK had alleged discrimination in the conversion of metre gauge to broad gauge in the State, as well as the decision to take up Chennai in the second phase for a dedicated freight corridor.

He said the dedicated freight corridor would be built from Delhi to Mumbai and Howrah in seven to eight years, based on passenger and commercial considerations. "This corridor would then be taken to Chennai. There is no question of discrimination. We have made a timetable for efficiency and will stick to it," he told AIADMK leader P.G. Narayanan, who initiated the discussion.

The House later approved the Railway budget for 2006-07 by voice vote and returned Appropriation Bill No. 3 passed by the Lok Sabha last week. The budget estimates ordinary working expenses at Rs. 38,300 crore and gross traffic receipts at Rs. 59,978 crore for the next fiscal.

Responding to criticism about alleged moves for the privatisation of the Railways, Mr. Prasad assured the House that there was no intention to bring in multi-national companies or privatise the Railways "now or later."

He said he had sought the intervention of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for separate funding for the ongoing projects for which an additional Rs. 25,000 crore was required. He did not favour closure of ongoing projects meant for gauge conversion, double track or remote area connectivity.

He expressed concern at the scrap worth Rs. 2,500 crore lying unsold with the Railways and said all efforts would be made to sell excess scrap through a process of bidding. The rest would be recycled and used in the wheel factories in Bangalore, Jamalpur and Chapra in Bihar.

Safety, a priority

The Minister said safety was a priority with the Ministry and sought the cooperation of the State Governments in monitoring law and order along railway lines so that incidents such as naxalites "hijacking" a train at Mughalsarai did not recur.

Earlier, Mr. Narayanan said it was a "deliberate" decision of the Railway Minister to exclude setting up the freight corridor between Mumbai-Chennai, Chennai-Delhi and Chennai-Kolkata. "The Minister is taking the people of Tamil Nadu for a ride by saying that he would include Chennai in the second phase. This means the south of India would have to wait for at least 20 years for projects to take off," he said. The Mumbai-Chennai corridor should be started in the first phase.

He said the railway line from Chengalpattu to Tuticorin had to be doubled to improve connectivity between Chennai and the Tuticorin Port. "While we are demanding doubling of the railway line for 750 km, the Railway Board is referring it to the Planning Commission for a mere 75 km," he said.

While demanding that a separate division be set up in Salem, as assured, he alleged that most trains named for Tamil Nadu went to Kerala and other States.

Congress leader A.K. Antony said Kerala was not "jealous" of Tamil Nadu but wanted that its interests were protected.

R. Shunmugasundaram of the DMK backed the demand for doubling the Chengalpattu-Tuticorin railway line and sought a circular train in Chennai.