Rail ministry: A milch cow that feeds votebank

Railway ministers, through the decades, have used the ministry to favour their states and people of their constituencies. A glance at the railway

budgets from the eighties shows most ministers boosted their own standing in their states through largesse in the form of new trains, factories, extension of lines, gauge conversion and so on. With thousands of contracts, big and small, from large tenders to small kiosks in stations to be given away, the ministry is the biggest gravy train.

As far back as the eighties, A B A Ghani Khan Chowdhury knew this. He brought new trains to his constituency, Malda, and the workshop there was among those selected for speedy modernization. He reaped the benefit of such largesse by winning repeatedly from there. He never forgot his state either, starting the circular railway for Calcutta and other new trains for the state. Madhav Rao Scindia, in his first budget in 1988, introduced three new trains — all to his state — two connecting Gwalior, his constituency, to Bombay and Calcutta, and a Jhansi Shatabdi. C K Jaffer Sharief who was the railway minister from 1991-95 established a wheel and axle factory near Bangalore giving employment to hundreds of people. He started many trains for his state, and specifically for Bangalore.

In keeping with this trend, in the short time that Suresh Kalmadi, who hails from Pune, was the railway minister in 1995, he introduced four new trains — all to/from Pune. After 1995, railways passed into the hands of the Bihar brigade, starting with Ram Vilas Paswan and remained with them for more than a decade, up to the term of Lalu Prasad last year, except for a brief period in between when Mamta Banerjee held the ministry in 2000 and 2001. In 1996, Paswan initiated the creation of several additional zones, one of which had its headquarters in Hajipur, his constituency. He set up a workshop at Barauni for air brake wagons. He also ensured direct service from eastern UP and north Bihar to Mumbai, Delhi, Bilaspur, and Durg by rerouting some trains.

Nitish Kumar held the portfolio in 2003 and he too continued the trend of pushing many new trains to and through Bihar. He commissioned three bridges over the Ganga, two in Bihar, one at Patna and another at Munger. He also got the requisite clearances for yet another bridge over the Kosi. He completed the bifurcation of the Eastern Railway.

Accusations have also been made that Nitish Kumar favoured candidates from Bihar in railway recruitment.With the railways employing thousands of casual labourers, ministers like Paswan and Sharief too were known to dole out jobs, especially to those from their own state or constituency. Trading of such charges is quite common. Banerji has openly accused Nitish of favouring his state in giving projects and when she was in charge, she is said to have even rolled back several rail projects in Bihar. And then came Lalu Prasad who continued to take good care of Bihar. In his tenure, 52 new trains for Bihar were started and a large number of new rail lines that passed through Bihar were opened.



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