In a speech laced with political undertones, Praful Patel, once the UPA government’s civil aviation minister, lavished praise on the railway budget on Monday, crediting Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu with having shown boldness in avoiding populism.
“I have not seen a single railway budget which has withstood the pressure of populism and has, in fact, focused on bringing railways back to financial health and also to bring it back into a situation where it truly contributes as its primary role of being the engine of growth for the nation,” Patel said while opening the discussions on the rail budget in Rajya Sabha.
Patel’s NCP, which was a key partner in the UPA government, has been flirting with the NDA for quite some time now and almost struck an alliance with the BJP to form the government in Maharashtra last year.
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On Monday, Patel was full of compliments for Prabhu, who comes from his home state of Maharashtra. Patel said successive railway ministers had announced schemes and allocated money to projects that never got completed. He said so many new railway lines used to be announced in every budget but those are projects that can be completed only in 25-30 years. Prabhu, he said, had done well to address the easier things first.
“I get an impression from the railways minister’s budget speech that he is trying to rectify things,” Patel said. “He is trying to first get hold of the low-hanging fruit and is trying to see what are the lines which can be completed and which will then contribute not only to connectivity for faster movement of goods and services, but also will improve the financial health of the Railways. I think, this is notable and a good step.
“Instead of scattering and frittering our scarce resources all across the country in 20 or 50 projects, I think if three or four projects of national importance are taken up as a priority, that will truly change the way the railway network functions,” he said.
Prabhu got a thumbs-up from other speakers, as well, even those who were generally critical of the budget.
Derek O’Brien of the Trinamool Congress praised Prabhu for incorporating his party chief Mamata Banerjee’s vision document in his action plan. But he also pointed out that the budget had not provided money for the ongoing railway projects in West Bengal. “This government claims to focus on ‘Look East’, but it is pursuing what should I say ‘Bluff East’,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien also suggested that the railways change its accounting system, which he claimed was based on a 95-year-old report of an expert committee.
K C Tyagi of the JD(U) attacked the government for trying to privatise the railways and said the proposed “Kaya Kalp” (changeover) council was actually going to be a “kriya karm” (death rites) council.
Prabhu was scheduled to reply to the debate in the evening but as the discussion stretched, the members prevailed on the chair to defer it for Tuesday.