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Between her lines,reads Bengal Assembly campaign speech: Singur,Nandigram,Lalgarh,inviting industry

There is one project — the extension of the Howrah suburban section into Garden Reach-Kidderpore areas that will touch a small part of my Lok Sabha constituency...

Written by Subrata Nagchoudhary | Kolkata | Published: July 4, 2009 2:37:43 am

There is one project — the extension of the Howrah suburban section into Garden Reach-Kidderpore areas that will touch a small part of my Lok Sabha constituency,” Mamata Banerjee smiled as she took a swipe at Lalu Prasad Yadav in her Railway Budget speech this afternoon.

There was no mistaking the understatement — the Budget this year sought to address a far bigger constituency than her Kolkata South. An analysis of the projects she announced makes it clear how her eyes are fixed firmly on the 2011 Prize,the Assembly elections. For,her agenda captures a grand sweep across West Bengal,from the Darjeeling foothills to the sea resort of Digha,from Belpahari to Lalgarh and from Nandigram to Singur. Also,pushing for public-private partnership,PSU takeover and upgrade of stations,she signalled that if she drove Tata’s Nano out,she was now opening the doors to industry.

The geographical spread of her largesse touches those places where her recent political struggle has catapulted her to power. She has also looked at nursing areas where the Trinamool Congress and its Congress ally did not do so well,as in North Bengal. So New Jalpaiguri got a major boost in the Budget proposals as well places like Darjeeling and Alipurduar.

She even invoked her catchline Maa,Maati,Manush (Mother,Land and the People) that she coined at the height of the violence in Nandigram. “I think members will be very happy to know how the facility of unreserved ticketing system can be reached to Maa,Maati Manush,” Banerjee said. Under the Maa,Maati Manush scheme,passengers can now buy computerized tickets from nearly 5000 post offices in cities and towns. She announced a project to link Singur and Nandigram in East Midnapore as also Belpahari and Lalgarh in West Midnapore that has been Ground Zero of the ongoing Maoist-Left stand-off.

While talking about the Railway’s captive power plants,Banerjee said that the new 1000 MW plant would come up at Adra in Purulia district in collaboration with the National Thermal Power Corporation. The location is of “great importance,” she said. Little surprise,this is an underdeveloped tribal area and providing employment opportunities here,she hopes,will help consolidate her political base.

The biggest snub for the Left came when she proposed to take over Burn Standard and Braithwaite — both Central PSUs. Burn Standard,with 1006 workers in its two units at Howrah and Asansol,has an accumulated loss of about Rs 438 crore. Braithwaite has about 200 workers on its permanent payroll and another 300 on contract. As per the 2002 balance sheet of the company — the last time it had one — the company has about Rs 150 crore in accumulated losses and has been up for sale. But it has not found a buyer.

Similarly,Banerjee proposed to take over the Basumati Sahitya Mandir — a state PSU lying idle for the past two years. “It’s a heritage institution and played a vital role in the freedom movement…I would be happy to take it over if the state government hands it over to the Railways,” Banerjee said. When word was doing the rounds a couple of days ago that Basumati could be taken take over by the Railways and used for Railway printing jobs,Nirupam Sen,the state Industries Minister had said: “If she does it,we will welcome it.”

On Friday,Sen was not available for comment but many of his Left comrades admitted in private that if she can get even half of her West Bengal proposals through,that would help her politically. Officially,however,Left Front chairman Biman Bose said: “It’s a mixed budget with a clear direction towards privatization. It will help capitalists.”

Ironically,PSU takeover has been the Left’s trademark slogan for over 25 years since the mid ‘80s in Bengal and Banerjee seems to have stolen that thunder. Sources said that via her proposal to build world-class stations through PPP,she is trying to “project a pro-development image,” in an attempt to undo the damage caused by Tata Nano’s exit to Gujarat. Some officials described the proposal of using Railway land for industrial projects as her “alternative model” to Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s.

In announcing rolling stock production and assembly facilities and coach rehabilitation at Dankuni,Majerhat and Naopara in Bengal,Banerjee,in fact,gifted four production units to her home state.

“These units will manufacture components for diesel and electric locomotives and will be set up at a cost of around Rs 500 crore,” senior Railway ministry officials said. They added that these units could be set up either through Public Private Partnership or by the Railways itself. While the unit in Dankuni will manufacture components for electric locomotives,the one in Naopara will deal with mid-life coach rehabilitation. The one in Majerhat may manufacture bogies for wagons.

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