Lalu’s pet projects may move to Bengal

Lalu’s pet projects may move to Bengal

NEW DELHI: Nothing seems to be working for Lalu Prasad these days. The RJD chief, who is reeling from the humiliating defeat in Lok Sabha

elections and the subsequent loss of power, may soon suffer another damage as the railway ministry under Mamata Banerjee is considering to shift to West Bengal the two locomotive factories worth Rs 30,000 crore he planned for his home state of Bihar.

Sources confirmed that the ministry was exploring the possibility of moving the two projects — a diesel locomotive factory at Chapra and an electric locomotive factory at Madhepura — to Banerjee’s West Bengal.

A senior railway official said, "The ministry is exploring the possibility of shifting the project to West Bengal, but the final decision will be taken at the highest level — Union Cabinet." He added, "The decision on shifting the location will be a political one."

If the plan comes to fruition, it will mark a crushing blow to Lalu, at a time when he is fast losing his supporters to his adversary, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar.

The former railway minister managed to get around serious problems about the viability of their location to get the two loco plants sited in his Lok Sabha constituencies of Chapra and Madhepura.

The relocation of the mega projects in investment-starved West Bengal will give the Trinamool chief a huge bragging point over her rival, the CPM. It will also compensate her for the loss that she suffered under NDA when she failed to prevent the bifurcation of Kolkata-based Eastern Railway to allott a significant part of its jurisdiction to East Central Railway which is headquartered in Hajipur, Bihar.

Interestingly, in that instance, Banerjee was outmanoeuvered by Nitish Kumar, the then railway minister. Nitish had rallied state governments of diverse stripes, using their desire to have railway zones located within their boundaries, to get around the objections raised by Banerjee.

It was just before Lok Sabha elections that Lalu, recognising the heavy odds stacked against him, managed to get the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs to greenlight the Chapra and Madhepura projects with an estimated cost of Rs 30,000 crore.

Sources said that after taking charge of the ministry, Banerjee is understood to have asked Railway Board officials to review all pending projects, including the two Bihar projects.

The fate of the two projects was uncertain even before the change of guard at Rail Bhawan as the mode of implementation was changed many times. The projects, which were initially to be implemented on PPP basis, were hurriedly changed to joint venture. Planning Commission officials handling infrastructure sector were of the view that railway ministry would find it difficult to attract private players even in joint venture mode, considering problems associated with the location — like law and order, land acquisition and recurrent floods.

Lalu realised this and managed to get Cabinet approval to implement these projects as departmental units.

Elated at the possibility of these projects coming to their home state, a Trinamool functionary described this as a "welcome move".

Action from railway Board New Delhi.
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