If there is one thing the Railway Ministers during UPA I and II are remembered for, it’s the special attention they showered on their respective home-states and constituencies while announcing new railways projects. Whether the newly-appointed Minister D V Sadananda Gowda follows suit is what would be keenly watched on July 8 when the Narendra Modi-led government unveils its maiden Rail Budget.
Already, indications from Rail Bhavan suggest that Gowda is unlikely to shower any largesse on his home-state Karnataka. “At best, Karnataka-specific projects already announced by his predecessor (Mallikarjun Kharge) may be consolidated and may find some mention in the Rail Budget. The new government’s stance appears clear: fruits of development cannot be biased in favour of one region. A pan-India approach is likely to be on display,” a Rail Bhavan source told The Indian Express.
Between Congress’s C K Jaffer Sharief (minister from 1991-95) and Pawan Kumar Bansal (minister for a few months from 2012-13) and but for the only exception of BJP’s Ram Naik (minister for a little over two months in 1999), Railways have been led by regional leaders from either Bihar or West Bengal. So, between 1995 and 2012, Rail Bhavan had Ram Vilas Paswan, Nitish Kumar, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Mamata Banerjee, Dinesh Trivedi and Mukul Roy at the helm.
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With regional satraps bagging the Railways portfolio for close to 17 years, the states they represented slowly started becoming the destinations for the ministry’s big ticket projects.
Lalu Prasad, for instance, announced locomotive-manufacturing units in Bihar during his term and sanctioned a plethora of projects for his home-state – as was evident in 2008 when of the 20 New Line projects he announced, 11 were for Bihar. His successor, Mamata Banerjee, chose to tread the same path by announcing a slew of Bengal-specific projects. Even when Mamata left Railways to take over as West Bengal CM, her partymen sworn in as the Railways Ministers followed the script.
When Pawan Kumar Bansal took over, there was a rush of expectations that he would bring the focus back to North India-Punjab, Haryana and his constituency Chandigarh. Bansal didn’t disappoint – as was evident with Chandigarh getting never-before attention in terms of new trains. Bansal’s successor Mallikarjun Kharge’s less-than-a-year term saw him focusing closely on his home-state Karnataka.