Mamta-di derailed railway portfolio?

Mamta-di derailed railway portfolio?

If you tThe Kalka Mail accident last week.w Home, Finance, Foreign Affairs and Defence ministries. But a look at the list of previous Railway ministers reveals many important leaders of the Independence and post-Independence era holding the charge of this ministry, which runs almost autonomously. Right from Lal Bahadur Shastri to Jagjivan Ram, George Fernandes, Madhu Dandavate, C K Jaffer Sharief, Ramvilas Paswan and Lalu Prasad, a series of popular leaders lent their popular appeal to this ministry. If Shastri is remembered for his integrity and sensitivity towards rail safety (he resigned after three fatal accidents), Madhu Dandavate gave Konkan Railway, a project known for its innovations. George Fernandes and Ramvilas Paswan had their own appeal.

Mamta Banerjee took charge of Railways at an important juncture in her political career. She fought her political battle in West Bengal through the Railway ministry. She had a model in her predecessor Lalu Prasad, who gained popularity by bringing change in the Railway ministry and became a talking point among the urban educated middle class of India.

Mamta proved to be more shrewd as she not only balanced the pressure of privatisation by taking into confidence the trade unions, but also used the Railways to expand and consolidate her mass base in West Bengal. In his attempt to globalise his image as the ‘Management guru’, Lalu forgot to address his constituency in his home state Bihar. He improved governance in railways and made it a financially viable public sector unit. It was for the first time during the post-Independence era that Railway claimed to be a profit making organisation.

Take a trip to the corridors of Rail Bhavan, the Railway ministry headquarters in Delhi, you will find Lalu a staple of  regular gossip.

Lalu-Mamta styles

His style of functioning is defined as most professional. Everyone compare his popular ‘nonchalance’ with his actual working style in the ministry and never forget to mention his no-nonsense governance-approach.

Contrary to this, Mamta never forgot her home constituency. Without taking notice of the bitter criticism of her alleged parochialism, she filled all the committees with cultural and literary personalities who later played an important role in dethroning the Left  from the seat of power. None of them contributed to the development of Railways.

Her focus on West Bengal was not limited to only owning sick units in West Bengal; she made Kolkata the alternative headquarter of the Railway ministry. Her preoccupation in West Bengal led to absence of governance and cost financially too. The Railways during her tenure landed in a deep financial crisis due to depletion of the surplus generated under Lalu’s leadership.

Senior officials tell the story of how Nitish Kumar fought and earned Rs 17,000 crore for Safety Fund. They describe the dismal situation of the late ‘90s when old and weak tracks cried for replacement. The Railways needed modernised safety norms. Himself an engineer, Nitish sat with the technocrats and planned a safety plan for railways. It was implemented during the tenure of Lalu, who never interfered with bureaucratic functioning.

Mamta did not have time to generate resources. Most of the safety plans were behind schedule and no new plan came forth. It is unlikely she will give a free hand to her successor to innovate.

Related Stories:

Rail safety, a long haul

‘We need Six Sigma trains’

DH Newsletter Privacy Policy Get top news in your inbox daily
Comments (+)