A day after The Indian Express reported that the Railways had sent the administration in drought-hit Latur a bill of Rs 2.16 crore for water trains sent to the region, Union Rail Minister Suresh Prabhu has ordered that the “estimate” be withdrawn immediately.
The Rail Ministry said in a statement on Friday that it had sent the “estimated expenditure” in response to a request from the Latur district administration to indicate the cost of water transportation.
However, the district administration denied sending any such request. “From day one of our communication, we have said that in view of the prevailing drought situation in Latur, the bill for water transportation should be waived. Point 4 of our first communication itself makes it very clear,” Latur district collector Pandurang Pole told The Indian Express.
Pole confirmed that he has received communication from officials of the Solapur division of Central Railway that the bill has been withdrawn. “The matter has ended now,” he said.
In a statement issued on Friday, the Railways said, “Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu is personally monitoring the entire operation and has directed that the concerned officials continue to run the trains till the time there is a need of water, and the settlement of the operational expenses will never be a constraint in this regard.”
“Prabhu has further ordered that the estimate of expenditure which was sent to the Latur district administration, on their request, will be withdrawn immediately,” it added.
The “estimate” had come in for severe criticism with BJP’s Latur MP Sunil Gaikwad calling it an “utterly wrong move” and Maharashtra Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant saying that it reflects “the Modi government’s insensitivity towards drought-hit people”.
The Railways has now promised to keep runing water trains for people in parched areas of Marathwada till the crisis is over.
“The settlement of expenditure is not relevant at this point of time as the most important matter is to continue uninterruptedly with the transportation of water to people in their hour of need,” the Railways said. “The issue of settlement of dues is being considered separately by the Railway Ministry.”
Meanwhile, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who was in Pune on Friday, said there was nothing wrong with the Railways sending a bill. “Railways is a PSU and well within its rights to send the bill. But we will settle the bill from the drought relief funds that we receive from the Centre,” he said.
Pole said that till Friday, over 6 crore litre of water had been received by Latur city. “The bill of Rs 2.16 crore was received by us over 10 days ago. So we assume that till date, the bill has run up to Rs 4 crore,” he said. The train, which covers 342 km daily from Miraj to Latur, has been running for a month.
— With ENS, New Delhi