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‘Railway budget has been made with a vengeance to kill Bengal’

How do you perceive the Union Budget  presented by Chidambaram?

There is no trademark Chidambaram innovativeness in this year’s budget. The Union budget, as far as tax proposals are concerned, is very mundane except the surcharge of 10 point levied on rich taxpayers with annual income of more than 10 million rupees. Customs and excise duties have more or less remained the same. The necessary incentives for investment are not there and investment in agriculture is too little. The food distribution will always be inadequate which will further lead to food inflation. Investment in flagship schemes has seen a marginal increase. It’s a very verbose budget.


Do you think this budget focused on wooing voters?

It will ultimately not even attract voters considering the state of the present economy. Its growth rate is down by five per cent and implementation of schemes is lacking.


Apart from this, what is the TMC’s view on the railway budget?


The railway budget was badly framed from our point of view. The hike in passenger fares by 20 per cent puts a big load on common people. In addition, the hike in reservation fees, supplementary charges and tatkal raises a huge burden. 5.9 per cent increase in freight tariff will have an impact on essential goods and will lead to further inflation. The railway budget reflects the lack of vision of Indian railways. As far as West Bengal is concerned, it seems like the rail budget is directed to kill all projects started by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her successors, which includes metro services run in Kolkata. It is the only metro run by the railway ministry. Banerjee had proposed five new metro projects. Only pittance have been given. It seems that the rail budget has been made with a vengeance to kill Bengal and Banerjee’s projects.


Veiwing the current political scenario is there a possibility of mid-term poll?


Mid-term is long gone! We are entering the end-term. I do not know why the Congress would like to advance the elections. Chances are that they wont get to form the next government so why should they hasten their own downfall?


Is the government  making an effort to reach out to the TMC again?

We are getting mixed signals. If we consider the railway budget, then it is absolutely anti-TMC. Home minister Sushilkumar Shinde went to Bengal and spoke on political issues about National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) and Border Security Force (BSF) activities in Bengal.


What is TMC’s view on NCTC?


We have not taken a final call as yet. We are opposed to its earlier form but NCTC in its new form has not been communicated to us till now.


The TMC was a vital constituent of the UPA but after you  withdrew there were talks that the govt might fall but it didn’t, what do you have to say?


The government became a minority when the TMC pulled out. They had 273 members and it came down to 254 and since then they have managed to the numbers mainly by the SP and the BSP through means which are understood by all. Both these parties had ongoing CBI cases against them in the Supremecourt. The government used it as a leverage to bring them on board. DMK is not on the same page as the UPA on the issue of  Sri Lanka and the NCP has complained bitterly about railway projects in Maharashtra while Uttar Pradesh has managed to get extra money in the main budget. In a crux, this is not a government, which has uniform policies. It has just coupled together a majority.


What is TMC’s views on the chopper scam?


It is one of the biggest scams to have hit the country. Bofors was 64 crores and this is about 356 crores. Heavy investigation should be done and everyone connected with this scam should be singled out and punished.


What is your view on the rape ordinance formulated by the government?

We are not happy with it. It doesn’t include all the recommendations of the J S Verma committee. We think this committee report should be implemented in totality. Justice Verma was an excellent judge and has produced an excellent report in a very time-bound manner. The government, in its hurry, didn’t incorporate many of his recommendations. This bill has no provision for marital rape. In the new bill, they have replaced the word rape with sexual assault. I have no objection to expanding the scope of the word but rape as a such should be there. It has been drafted in a hurry and needs changes.


What are your views on food security bill and land acquisition?

If they want to enact food security bill let them, but state governments should not be asked to bear the government’s burden. State government’s has no resources of sharing this burden of 25 per cent. Every state government has their own schemes regarding food for common people. We are already giving food subsidy to a limited number of people but this load of 25 per cent is too big for us so we are opposed to it. We have to see the final composition of the land acquisition and then take a call.


You took on Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee for predicting a TMC-BJP alliance?


Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had said in a CPM meeting that TMC may join hands with the BJP! It’s a figment of his imagination. If we have quit the UPA that doesn’t mean that we are joining the NDA. Our position is equidistant from both UPA and NDA.


Your relationship with the state Congress has worsened but would the TMC align with the UPA again for tactical reasons?

Nothing can be ruled out or said with finality in politics but we are against the general attitude of the government. Main bone of contention is thematter of moratorium on interest payment to state. In context of the Teesta water sharing issue and now the railway budget, it seems like the central government is going after the TMC with vengeance.
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