Mamata Banerjee faced her first long-distance test as railway
minister today — for a decision taken just before she assumed
Angry villagers torched two trains, uprooted tracks and ransacked a
station in Bihar to protest a decision by East Central Railway to
cancel 33 “uneconomic” halts across the state.
The formal order to scrap the halts — opened during the tenure of
her predecessor Lalu Prasad — came on May 26, the day Mamata took
charge of railways, leading her aides to suspect a bid to “sabotage”
her second stint at Rail Bhavan.
Calcutta, Mamata said the railway ministry “did not issue any
notification” on withdrawing the halts.
spoke to Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar to clarify it. We are
Indians and Bihar is one of our neighbours. The railway halts will
continue like in the past and I am not going to remove any of the
She said some people with an “ulterior motive to malign” her had
fanned the violence “to give it a Bengal-versus-Bihar look”.
“The mischief was deliberately done to spark tension after I took
over as railway minister,” she said and ordered a departmental probe
before leaving for the capital.
Delhi, the railway board said the “decision on withdrawal of
stoppages was taken by the zonal railway without consulting the
ministry of railway”.
“No directive for the withdrawal of these stoppages was given by the
ministry and the board today directed the zonal railway that these
stoppages that were withdrawn be restored with immediate effect,”
board member (traffic) Shri Prakash said.
However, a copy of the East Central Railway order dated May 26
acquired by The Telegraph shows that copies had been faxed to
the railway board executive director.
Railway ministry sources confirmed that railway board officials were
aware of the decision to scrap the halts but it was “never
communicated to the minister”.
The sources said Lalu Prasad was still in charge as interim minister
when the decision to scrap the 33 halts was taken but added that the
RJD chief was too caught up with the election results, and it was
more a case of overzealous officials acting on their own.
The RJD disassociated itself from the violence on a “national
property” and said the party had “no reason to doubt” the new
railway minister’s concern for Bihar.
Banerjee has played no role in halting the railway halts in Bihar,”
Lalu Prasad said.
“Bihar and Bengal are like brothers, and the RJD will not support
any action that raises doubts on Mamata Banerjee’s concern for the
state,” said national spokesperson Ramkripal Yadav.
“We are sure that Mamataji will take into consideration the ideas
which had inspired her predecessor to open the halts in Bihar,” he
Sources close to Mamata said they would look into the “possibility
of someone trying to sabotage the government” by taking such
decisions independently. “On her part, she has till now taken no
decision to either introduce or stop any halts,” said a source.
Officials claimed the railway board had directed the zonal railway
to cancel the notification on May 28, but the decision to suspend
the notification had not been publicised.
Among the 33 halts cancelled were Tetulmari on the Dhanbad-Gaya
Intercity Express route; Ismailpur on the Patna-Dehiri-on Sone
Express route; Neora on the Howrah-Sriganganagar Toofan Express
route; and Khusrupur on the Shramjivi Express route.
Railway board member Prakash said the zonal railway had started
these halts as a “temporary” measure in 2007 and enjoyed the right
to scrap them if they turned out to be money-losers.
added that if the railway board, “recommends a halt at a particular
station, it normally does so after a commercial viability study”.
Khusrupur, 20km from Patna under Danapur division, officials said
angry villagers armed with rods forced passengers out and set the
trains on fire.
The mob torched AC III bogies of the Danapur-Patna-Jainagar
Intercity train and two bogies of the Rajgir Danapur passenger
train. “They uprooted railway tracks and assaulted our staff when
they intervened,” a senior railway official said.
Train services were disrupted between 8.30am and 1pm.
Calcutta, Mamata said she had ordered a departmental probe after
talking to railway board chairman S.S. Khuruna. “If rail officials
are found to be involved, they won’t be spared. Showcause notices
will be slapped.”
The minister appealed to people not “to get provoked by wrong
have come to know that some ads had appeared in local dailies about
cancellation of railway halts in Bihar…. I would request people to
talk to us instead of being carried away by mischief mongers.”
WITH INPUTS FROM R. SURYAMURTHY AND JAYANTA ROY CHOWDHURY