|Tuesday, May 16, 2000,
Special trains for minister, MPs
CHANDIGARH, May 15 — Union Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee’s love for austerity notwithstanding, Northern Railway ran three special trains between New Delhi and Kandaghat during the past few days to facilitate an exhibition cricket match at Chail in Himachal Pradesh.
The match, played between Railways XI and MPs XI, featured the Minister of State for Railways, Mr Digvijay Singh, and several present and former Members of Parliament, including Mr KP Singh Deo, Mr Santosh Mohan Dev, Mr Laxman Singh, Mr Inderjit, Mr P.N. Siva, Mr A. Das and Mr B.P. Singh, besides others.
For the past three days, all senior functionaries of Ambala Division had been on their toes looking after the visiting dignitaries. The visitors left late last night by a special train, comprising an air-conditioned two-tier coach, a saloon for the minister and another coach.
In January this year, Ms Banerjee had stated that the Indian Railways had saved Rs 735 crore following the austerity measures which included hospitality, publicity, seminars, travel and office expenses.
Another report had said the concessions in passenger fares doled out by the Railways cost the Railways Rs 120 crore a month.
In February when a bomb blast took place in Jammu, Ms Banerjee refused to travel in the minister’s saloon and travelled in second class ordinary coach. But her example was not emulated by her two junior ministers.
Though Mr Digvijay Singh told The Tribune at Pinewood Hotel of Himachal Tourism in Barog that the match was sponsored by the Himachal Pradesh Government, a senior railway official maintained that the sponsorship was by the Railways Sports Control Board.
“It was an exciting time for all of us. We enjoyed every moment of it,” Mr Digvijay Singh said disclosing that they had to be in Delhi in time for theParliamentary session on Monday.
Investigations reveal that the ministers’ entourage for the match arrived on Saturday morning. The visiting group had as many as 17 MPs, both former and present. Most of them were accompanied by their spouses or companions. In all, when the team returned from Kalka last night, all 46 berths of the coach were booked for the special invitees. Most of them travelled on their “free passes” which are issued to all MPs, their spouses and also to employees of the Railways and their families.
“There is nothing unusual in this,” said Mr Digvijay Singh. “I am, as Railways Minister, entitled to a special train. Each MP gets six passes a year. So they have come on their passes. Their spouses also get passes. Members of the Railways Board or employees of the Railways and their families also get passes. I do not think any irregularity has been committed. As far as expenses on the match are concerned, it was sponsored by the Himachal Pradesh Government,” the minister said.
He further said that, “It does not “go against the austerity drive of the Railways Minister as no one is travelling without his or her entitlement”.
Though the initial registration chart of Kalka mail to Howrah Junction had shown almost all members of the entourage on Wait List of the original 2312 Up train, they all were accommodated in the special coach. Others, who also figured on the Wait List along with them, however, could not be accommodated. Mr Vijay Kumar, Divisional Manager, Ambala, said not even a single passenger had been put to inconvenience or any disadvantage because of the special trains.
Yesterday, when the visitors arrived at Kalka, a special reception was held for them at the station by a unit of the Army which Mr K.P. Singh Deo had once served.
A special train comprising three Shivalik Delux Coaches with a capacity of 20 passengers each, a chair-car coach of 30 seats and a brake-van took them to Kandaghat from Kalka on Saturday morning.
On the way breakfast was arranged for the “guests”. From Kandaghat, special air-conditioned buses of the Himachal Tourism Development Corporation took them to Chail where a campfire was organised after the players of the two teams had some practice.
Yesterday, on Sunday, they had a game which the team led by the Railways Minister won in an exciting finish. Immediately after the game, all were taken to Kufri after which they were treated to a dinner at Barog’s Pinewood Hotel. Though the visitors were initially expected to return to Delhi by Kalka Mail at 11.30 p.m., they were slightly behind schedule in reaching Kalka and officials decided to run a special train to Delhi with a stopover at Ambala for changing from a diesel engine to an electric one.
For Saturday and Sunday (almost until midnight), several top functionaries of Ambala Division, including the DRM, Mr Vijay Kumar, the DCP, Mr M.M. Singh, and the Sr DOM, Mr Aneet Dulat, stayed with the visitors to look after them.
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