Wednesday, July 10, 2002, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Nitish threatens to quit
Advani to take up railway issue with PM
T. R. Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

Union Railway Minister Nitish Kumar
Union Railway Minister Nitish Kumar meeting the all-party delegation from West Bengal to discuss the Eastern Railway bifurcation issue in New Delhi on Tuesday. ó PTI photo

New Delhi, July 9
Union Railway Minister Nitish Kumarís stout resistance to referring the bifurcation of Eastern Railway to an experts committee headed by Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani has the portends of blowing beyond a Samata Party-Trinamool Congress confrontation in the ensuing monsoon session of Parliament.

Impartial observers here and railway experts view Mr Nitish Kumarís unbudging approach as a political gambit for short-term gains in his home state of Bihar though pressure is mounting on the Vajpayee government to review the zonal organisation of the gigantic railway system.

Even as Mr Nitish Kumar has threatened to resign as Railway Minister if the Union Cabinetís decision is reversed or sought to be reviewed to end the impasse with Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, Mr Advani told a delegation of MPs and MLAs of nine parties including the Congress, from West Bengal that he would take up the bifurcation matter with the Prime Minister on Thursday.

With the prospects of some other states in the North and West raising objections to the reorganisation of the railway zones, Mr Vajpayee might find it difficult to side step the controversy as it could enlarge the fissures in the disparate NDA grouping.

West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharyya had specially met Mr Advani last week and suggested the setting up of an experts committee to review the bifurcation of Eastern Railway. He had desired that Mr Advani head the committee and its decision be binding on all concerned.

Mr Advani made it clear that no decision had been taken about constituting an experts committee. He said at Thursdayís meeting with the Prime Minister, Union Defence Minister and NDA convener George Fernandes as well as Mr Nitish Kumar will also be present. Mr Fernandes has been liaising with Ms Banerjee to find an amicable way out of the imbroglio and pave the way for her induction into the Cabinet.

The all-party delegation also met Mr Nitish Kumar and impressed upon him not to bash on regardless about the reorganisation of the zonal railways.

The Union Railway Ministry gave the green light in July, 1996, for carving out seven new zones from the existing nine zonal railways. These were North Central (Allahabad), South Western (Bangalore), East Central (Hajipur), East Coast (Bhubhaneswar), West Central (Jabalpur), North Western (Jaipur) and Bilaspur.

Setting up of these new zones is expected to cost about Rs 700 crore.

The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had countered the ministryís contention that the creation of these zones would add to the operational efficiency of the system. The CAG observed in unambiguous terms that the establishment of new zones would only involve additional expenditure on offices, staff, etc and not on promoting actual railway activities related to running more trains efficiently.

The Railway Convention Committee had also opined in its report that creation of more divisions instead of new zones should have been given weightage with the growth in the volume of freight and passenger traffic.


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