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Railing against the Rail Budget

It is the same old story of cruel neglect. The raw deal meted out to Kerala in the Railway Budget has left the state railing against the exercise.

The intensity of the state’s anger can be gauged from the reaction of the minister in charge of railways, Aryadan Mohammed. ‘Though we did not expect much from the rail budget, we never expected it to be so disappointing,’ was the strong reaction of the minister, a senior and influential Congress leader from the Malabar region. Aryadan has also made it clear that the state is in no mood to take the central apathy lying down. A delegation is expected to soon leave for Delhi to convey Kerala’s displeasure to the Centre, he said.

Leader of the Opposition V S Achuthanandan put it more strongly with a telling comment. If Kerala is unable to have its voice heard in the corridors of power despite there being eight central ministers from the state in the Union Cabinet, there is something seriously wrong. Other Opposition leaders were equally caustic in their comments. What is the use of having eight central ministers if the state cannot have even its basic railway needs met? That is the question they ask angrily. former railway minister and senior BJP leaders from the state O Rajagopal said never in the history of Kerala has the state been so cruelly neglected by the railway ministry. No doubt, it is a searing comment on the monumental failure of the MPs and ministers from Kerala to pile on the pressure and have their way. It is time for serious introspection as well. It is not as if there are no gains at all for the state. The railway minister has thrown a few crumbs in the form of two new trains, albeit weekly ones, and two passenger trains. Some existing trains have been extended, too. But these are nothing but cold comforts.

The railway minister has maintained a deafening silence on the most important demand Kerala has been making over the years: a peninsular zone for the state. There would be no end to the state’s rail woes unless it gets a zone for itself. An exclusive zone is extremely important because the railway ministry allocates funds on the basis of zones. Right now, Kerala has only two divisions: Palakkad and Thiruvananthapuram, which come under the southern railway headquartered in Chennai.

And decisions on the use of such centrally-allocated funds are taken at Chennai; and in most cases Kerala gets only the left-overs of such funds from the southern railway with its distinct preference for Tamil Nadu. Once Kerala has a zone of its own, the state can plan and use the central funds on a priority basis to put in place the basic infrastructure the state so badly needs. This being the reality, the earlier the ministers and MPs from the state pressure the Centre into conceding the most important demand of the state, the better.

Another complaint from the Centre is that Kerala is lamentably lax in the matter of acquiring land meant for building of the coach factory in Palakkad and the wagon factory at Chertala. There may be an element of truth in the allegation. But the UPA government at the Centre cannot fully wash its hands on this pretext. The ground realities speak their own story. The coach factory at Rae Bareili was set up years after the foundation stone was laid for the Palakkad coach factory. While the Rae Bareli factory has already started rolling out coaches, things have made hardly any forward movement at Palakkad. All that has happened is that the foundation stone has been gathering moss fast! The lot of the wagon factory planned at Chertala has been no different. The last budget promised a lot in this regard. This time around, the minister has not cared even to mention the project! But there is no excuse for the delay in completing electrification and doubling of the most busy rail route in Kerala, the Shoranur-Mangalore line. Certainly the problem of land acquisition does not inhibit completion of this project.

No wonder, the people of Kerala dub the railway budget as an unmitigated disaster. What remains to be seen is whether the ministers and MPs from the state learn appropriate lessons and revise their strategies accordingly. Or will they continue to behave a la the Bourbons who never learn anything? (IPA)
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