West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee may be railing against alleged corruption in coal allocations, but while she was railway minister in the same Cabinet, the Trinamool leader diverted allocation from the railway budget to lay hundreds of kilometres of tracks in her state, for which there was no provision.
The method she had applied was simple. For instance, in the railway Budget for 2011-12, Mamata had said 95 new lines including extensions would be constructed as per the list she tabled in Parliament among the Budget documents. After she got approval from the Parliament, however, Mamata used the allocation to build rail lines in some other places.
The extent of diversion is considerable and shows how the ministry played around with parliamentary disclosures. Rail Bhawan did this diversion of over 1,300 km of rail lines, most of which were in Eastern Railway and covered West Bengal. The cost of the diverted expenditure for Indian Railways comes to about R10,568 crore, or about 10% of the railway's annual expenditure budget. Taken together in 2010-11 and 2011-12, the minister had announced 1,700 km of new rail lines, claiming these were a massive increase from the usual pace of adding 200 km every year.
A Rail Bhawan source said while the projects for which Parliament gave its approval were regionally diversified, the money was used to build lines where the Trinamool leader had political interests. Naturally, these were projects where hardly any techno-economic feasibility studies had been carried out, the source said.
The lapses have been criticised as gross failure of internal control by the Comptroller and Auditor General in its report on railway finances. The Railways has not reacted yet to the national auditor's charges. A list of 53 projects where approvals have been misused shows 39 of them were in West Bengal. Outside the state, two projects where lines have run to destinations different from where Parliament wanted them to run were in Rae Bareilly and Amethi in Uttar Pradesh.
For the Railways, constructing a new line is a separate head of expenditure, for which it must go to Parliament. Successive railway ministers have derived a lot of publicity from measures to lay new lines, drawing appreciation from the members elected from the concerned areas.
Mamata Banerjee too had played to the gallery, announcing in her two budgets a detailed list of 189 new lines (including gauge conversion and doubling of rail tracks) that she aimed to complete.
But as the CAG report shows, after having obtained those approvals, Mamata directed her officers to lay new lines to connect other pairs of stations. The CAG report has highlighted this as a failure of railways to take approval of Parliament that mocked internal controls.