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Mamata, Lalu slugfest over Rly budget
Published on 4 Jul. 2009 12:23 AM IST
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Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee and her predecessor Lalu Prasad Friday engaged in a war of words over the rail budget. While Banerjee termed the targets fixed by him in his interim rail budget as "unrealistically high", Lalu Prasad said she suffered from a "complex". But Banerjee, who also promised a white paper on the actual performance of Indian Railways during the past five years while presenting the rail budget for 2009-2010, later told reporters: "I have no differences with him. He is a friend." When asked if Bihar, Lalu Prasad's home state, was given short shrift in the rail budget she presented Friday, Banerjee said: "I will give more importance to Patna." "Based on the reviews, it is very clear that the unrealistically high targets set in the interim budget are not sustainable and warrant a mid-course correction," Banerjee said while presenting her ministry's budget for the current fiscal in the Lok Sabha. In the interim rail budget, Lalu Prasad had set a target of earning Rs.59,059 crore from goods and services and Rs.25,000 crore from passengers. But Banerjee projected the goods earning at Rs.58,525 crore and passengers earning at Rs.24,309 crore. "I have now set more realistic targets for 2009-10 in the main budget based on the continuing trend of recession in the manufacturing sector and exports," she said. The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader, who had earned praise for turning around Indian Railways during his five-year term at Rail Bhavan, said in parliament that Banerjee suffered from a "complex" and that many of her proposals, being touted as original, were actually his own and unveiled earlier. Lalu Prasad minced no words in criticising his successor, and even alluding that the latter had virtually copied several of his own proposals to present them as her own, including the promise of upgrading 50 train stations into world class facilities. "She suffers from a complex," said the former minister soon after the budget speech, adding that his turnaround story had been well documented and serves as a case study not only at management schools in India but also at Harvard Business School. He said his successive budgets had forced experts to reverse their analysis that Indian Railways would soon become bankrupt, by ensuring a surplus of Rs.92,000 crore. "There are some operative defects in the budget she has presented. The operating ratio has gone up to 92.5 percent. That, too, at a time when the economy is slowing down," he said, adding, "If we continue like this all the past good work will be reversed." Operating ratio is the amount spent to earn every Rs.100 and a key indicator of cost management and profitability. Lalu Prasad's interim budget had pegged the operating ratio at 89.9 percent, while it was 88.3 in 2008-09. He also said he was not concerned over Banerjee's proposal to come out with a white paper on the performance of Indian Railways in the past five years, adding every measure taken by him was audited and had passed the scrutiny of the official auditor and parliament.

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