Rail Budget leaves Left MPs divided; BJP terms concessions eyewash

Written by Political Bureau | New Delhi, Feb 26 | Updated: Feb 27 2008, 03:46am hrs
The formidable CPI(M) bench in Parliament was on Tuesday divided over the acceptability of rail minister Lalu Prasads magical Rail Budget, as the Bengal comrades were seen compelling their Kerala counterparts for a walkout from the Lok Sabha against the ministers partisan plans and privatisation moves.

The Railway Budget could not evoke much protest even from the Opposition benches, as anticipated. When the top BJP leaders including LK Advani sat through the end of the speech, the SP and the UPA-ally Left staged a walkout protesting privatisation of the Railways.

Later in a statement the BJP, however, said that the Budget is disappointing and the sops announced, including a reduction in sleeper charges, were just an eyewash. The Railway Budget is disappointing. Members from various states made noise and walked out, which shows that the hopes of all the states turned into disappointment, BJP spokesman VK Malhotra said. The Congress members kept sitting in the House in compulsion. They are also very disappointed with the Budget and wanted to raise their voice against it, he claimed and added that uproar in the House when Lalu was presenting the Budget was unparalleled. People are being cheated. Passenger trains are being redesignated as superfast trains. The coaches would remain the same but the fares would go up, he said.

CPI(M) members, although did walkout of the House, later in a change of mind said that the Budget has some positive features. The reduction in passenger fares is a welcome step. In a situation where people are suffering from all-round price rise the reduction in passenger fares provides some relief, the partys politburo said in a statement. The party, however, criticised the public-private partnership (PPP) projects announced in the Budget.

The CPI has also come against the Budget. The minister has announced rampant privatisation measures in key sectors like ticketing. Outsourcing such jobs will reduce the job generation by the ministry. India with millions of unemployed cant afford this, CPI deputy leader in Lok Sabha CK Chandrappan told FE. However, he added that the party is satisfied on what has been given to Kerala. His colleagues from West Bengal Gurudas Dasgupta and Sudhakar Reddy from Andhra Pradesh, and termed the budget as partisan.

The SP, which also walked out of the House, alleged that the Rail Budget is a Bihar-Tamil Nadu Budget. States like UP has been completely ignored by the minister. The ministry is intervening in the rights of states by announcing large-scale land acquisition for the railways. Land is a state subject and states should be consulted before any kind of acquisitions, SP chief whip Mohan Singh told FE.

He said that they will soon meet the Prime Minister and will convey their protests against such issues, including the privatisation of Railways. If the privatisation drive continues in this pace, Indian Railways will become a private company in three years, Singh said.