MR. DEPUTY-SPEAKER: The House will now discuss Supplementary Demands for Grants (Railways) for 1999-2000. The time allotted for this subject is four hours. The hon. Members are requested to speak on the Demands only and be brief so that the maximum Members may participate in the discussion.
"That the respective supplementary sums not exceeding the amounts shown in the third column of the Order Paper be granted to the President of India out of the Consolidated Fund to defray the charges that will come in course of payment during the year ending the 31st day of March, 2000, in respect of the head of Demand entered in the second column thereof against Demand No.16."
SHRI ALI MOHD. NAIK (ANANTNAG): I want to make a small submission. This is a money Bill. The demands are in a form of Bill and under the Constitution, it should have been recommended to the House by the hon. President of India. There is no certificate to the effect that these Demands are being recommended by the hon. President under article 110 which gives the definition of Money Bills, and article 117 makes incumbent that it should be recommended by the President of India to the Legislature.
MR. DEPUTY-SPEAKER: The hon. Member may kindly resume his seat. This is Supplementary Demands for Grants (Railways).
SHRI ALI MOHD. NAIK : Let it be Supplementary Demands.
MR. DEPUTY-SPEAKER: In case you want to raise any objection, you could have given in writing to me.
SHRI ALI MOHD. NAIK : It is not necessary. I will show the Rule Book. I will show the Constitution. It is not necessary that I should give it in writing.
MR. DEPUTY-SPEAKER: You should give notice.
SHRI ALI MOHD. NAIK : My point is that the certificate of the Minister that she has written to the hon. President for recommendation is not sufficient under the Constitution. There should be an order or a certificate from the Speaker, or from the Secretary-General of this House that the President has consented or recommended it for the consideration of this hon. House. This is what article 117 says. So, my point is that this cannot be considered without the recommendations of the President of India.
SHRI SUDIP BANDYOPADHYAY (CALCUTTA NORTH WEST): Sir, while placing the Supplementary Demands for Grants (Railways), it is very categorically mentioned that the recommendation of the President required under clause 3 of article 113 read with clauses 1(a) and 2 of article 115 of the Constitution for making the Demands has been obtained. It is very much clear that it has been obtained. So, I do not know what is the necessity of raising the objection.
MR. DEPUTY-SPEAKER: That is why, I was also drawing the attention of the hon. Member. The hon. Member should have taken a little pain. It is already there. She has already obtained the President's recommendation. There is nothing wrong in it.
MR. DEPUTY-SPEAKER: You please see it is already obtained and without obtaining the President's recommendation, it cannot come on the floor of the House. You are a new Member. You kindly go through the rules. Unless and until, the hon. President's recommendation is there, it cannot come here. On the face of it, its printed also. You please go through it. Please do not waste the time of the House.
MR. DEPUTY-SPEAKER: Now, I call Shri P.R. Dasmunsi.
MR. DEPUTY-SPEAKER: Please see on the face of it it is already printed. You please go through it.
SHRI PRIYA RANJAN DASMUNSI (RAIGANJ): Mr. Deputy-Speaker, Sir, it is my pleasure to initiate the debate today on behalf of our Party before the new hon. Minister of Railways of the Government.
Sir, at the outset, I wish the mission of the Minister of Railways an overall success and I feel proud of West Bengal State that we could produce a leader who could occupy such an august Chair of the Government and that too in the key position of the Ministry of Railways.
Sir, through you, I would like to highlight a few important issues. Normally, in Supplementary Demands for Grants major issues are hardly debated, but in matters of suggestions and initiating a few more new areas, I would like to comment on these Supplementary Demands for Grants.
Sir, first of all, I would like to draw the attention of the hon. Minister, through you, to the matter which concerns everybody today which is the safety and security of the passengers while they travel in train. While assuming office, I understand the hon. Minister of Railways said: The topmost priority of the Government shall be accorded for the security and safety of the railway system to ensure security and safety of the passengers.
Sir, it is not merely a good wish; it should be supported and augmented by the entire Parliament and the Ministry of Finance through its budgetary support. I want to know the policy angle of the Government. Do the Government agree that safety and security should be given the top priority; if so, like the Defence, why should not the Ministry of Railways be given the second highest priority in financial allocation and the budgetary support? It is not important who is coming and who is going in the Ministry of Railways. It is important that this Ministry must get the highest priority in terms of safety and security.
Sir, I now come to the main issues. Shri Nitish Kumar, while he was in the Office, did say that priority also should be given to safety and security, but you know finally what had happened. What is the fate of the 150 years' old Ministry of Railways which is yet to go miles and miles in providing safe, accident-free and efficient transport service to nearly 12 million passengers who travel by it every day?
It was the privilege of the present hon. Minister of Railways to preside over the Standing Committee on Railways while the previous Government was functioning, when Shri Nitish Kumar was the Minister of Railways. I find that the Committee headed by the hon. Minister of Railways did recommend and very correctly so. I quote:
"Signalling and telecommunication System plays a par amount role in ensuring safety of passengers and minimising the impact of human errors on train operations. During the year 1998-99, a sum of Rs. 361 crore was allocated to implement the projects under this Plan Head. However, at the Revised Estimate stage this amount was reduced to Rs. 325 crore. The Committee fail to understand the reasoning of the Ministry that on one hand they announce Signalling and Telecommunication as a thrust/priority area and on the other they prune the allocations made under this Head at the Revised Estimate stage. The Committee take a very serious view of this indiscriminate cut in the allocation of funds under this head.
Thereafter it says:
"The Committee recommends that funds at the rate of Rs.500 crore be provided under the head `Railways" to ensure safety."
Secondly, there is a confusion going on. When we all say that the Railways need resources, we all give a lot of suggestions. One of the suggestions made by the previous Standing Committee headed by Kumari Mamata Banerjee is that the Railways can augment further resources by utilising and exploiting the available surplus land at the disposal of the Railways. I think it is a very good suggestion and it should be done. But, at the same time, I find that there are two contradictory views. While the Railway Minister very rightly says that the days have come when we should think of involvement of the private sector in one way or the other to exploit the Railway property, etc. The Hindustan Times dated 18th October, 1999 said: "Safer Journey Mamata wants to involve private sector". Again, The Observer said: "Vajpayee rules out privatisation of Railways". I think the statements of Shri Vajpayee and Kumari Mamata Banerjee have no quarrel and clash, but there is an interpretation gap. So far as privatisation of Railways is concerned, we may have a different view, but as far as private sector's involvement in the railway system to take the property and exploit it is concerned, we have a different view. So, I hope that today, during the course of reply, the hon. Minister would tell us as to what exactly they mean by involvement of the private sector. Is it to take up a few projects and trains or to exploit the Railways' property to the best extent possible to generate resources? That will convince the House and the House will react at the appropriate time when the Railway Budget will come up.
I read out from para 154 on page 103 of the recommendations of the Standing Committee on Railways:
"On the issue of augmentation of resources in the railways, one of the most important sources can be optimum utilisation of the railway lands. Huge quanta of land are owned by the railways. Proper land management can fetch huge resources for the railways to invest in development projects which are so much starved of resources. The railway lands may have been under use of some organisations or groups of people for long years. In many cases they are under use by such people for more than 70 years and not put to the best economic use. In such cases, the land-in-question maybe optimally utilised after arranging alternative settlement of such people."
Sir, this is a matter where the Railway Ministry will have confrontation with the State Governments. The reason is obvious. They allow the jhuggi-jhonparis to be built year after year on the railway land and when the railway officials come, we, the public representatives, irrespective of the political parties we belong to, go and persuade the Governments not to remove them because otherwise where will they go? Is there any policy with the Ministry of Railways now or do they have any comprehensive blueprint in hand that in such cases where eviction or removal of such groups of people who are unauthorised occupants of the Railway Ministry is required, how they will be settled elsewhere. I think for that reason if a Committee is formed between the Union Railway Ministry and the representatives of the State Government for a collective will (a) to dispose of the land of the railways to augment resources; and (b) to make alternative placement to those people, it will be good. Then, I think, the confrontation will be avoided. Otherwise, I think, if the Railways desire to do something, the State Government will not cooperate. If the State Government and the Railway Ministry are at the same political level, some parties will come and create problems. It is very natural. If I represent a constituency I have an obligation to my people. I cannot keep quiet at that, be it the B.J.P. Government or the C.P.M. Government or the Congress Government.
Therefore, I feel that the hon. Minister can spell out as to what exactly is the policy in this regard.
The Standing Committee further said a very important thing. I think the entire Parliament should take note of the recommendation of the Standing Committee last year, which was headed by Kumari Mamata Banerjee. It said :
"The Committee desire that before chalking out a plan to remove encroachments on Railway land, a rehabilitation package should be provided well in advance by effective coordination with the State authorities. The Railways should also explore exploitation of Railway land and air space, particularly in Metro Cities in order to generate more resources for the Railways development plans."
I think this is what I said just now. I think that my suggestion and the recommendation of the Committee are in line with this and I hope that the hon. Minister who is now in the office also, shall try to implement the recommendation of the earlier Committee, in a teamspirit of the Railways with the cooperation of the State Government either through a Committee or through a dialogue.
Now, I want to highlight a few more issues. I will only ask the hon. Minister of Railways one thing. I know her dynamism, sincerity and honesty. Will the hon. Minister take one issu e very seriously, come what may, irrespective of the political parties who rule the Railway Ministry? Will she take up the case of all kinds of previous imports and purchases of Railways and probe whether there was any rat smelling? We have imported a large stock from British Railtrack. We have imported a few things from Germany at a very higher rate, ignoring global tender. We have done something in the Railway Ministry in the name of the interest of the people which smell foul. Will the hon. Minister clean the Rail Bhavan from the past tracks, shadows or deals and other cultures through an appropriate investigation Committee, come what may? If the Congress is to be punished, let the Congress be punished. If the BJP is to be punished, let the BJP be punished. But you take that bold step to give a message that here is the Rail Bhavan which does not deal in deals and foul things. Once you establish it, I think the morale of theailway Ministry will come to the real track and from that day there will be no derailment in your commitment to the people as such from the Railway Ministry.
The Metro railway project in Delhi is on. There are projects which are on in Mumbai. There are projects taken up by earlier Ministers in Bihar and U.P. I wish them good luck. There are projects in the North-East. I wish them good luck. But do not misunderstand me for saying this because being a Member from West Bengal, I think it is a privilege to me to address the hon. Minister, to remind her a few things. Besides Bihar, U.P., and Maharashtra there are other States. There has been a tradition in this House that whoever may be the Railway Minister, he or she first takes the load of the State from where he or she comes. I do not blame it. There are pressures. But I think I have to place some legitimate things before the hon. Minister of Railways.
In Sundarbans area of Bengal, Lakshmikantpur-Namkhana project is there which is still not seeing the light of the day. The hon. Minister has said outside Parliament about her sincere desire to complete the Eklakhi-Balurghat project which has not seen the light of the day till now. What is the progress in it? During the tenure of late Shri Rajiv Gandhi, Barkat da, the then Railway Minister introduced it and plan sanction was done. But there is slow progress. I wish the hon. Minister to provide such resources that this project comes to a decisive line. I came to know from the newspapers that the lands have not yet been taken over by the Railways and the State Government says that the Minister is in a better position to clarify and the Railways have not asked for the land from the State. What is the position and the facts of the project? The hon. Minister may highlight this.
I will be too glad to know it. Though I represent a different constituency in the State, a part of this district is also in my constituency.
So, I have a duty to remind the hon. Railway Minister. Then, I come to Digha-Tumluk. Mr. Deputy-Speaker Sir, it is a belt which made India free from the Britishers, before 15th August, 1947, for 72 consecutive hours. A large number of freedom-fighters who went to gallows, who sacrificed their lives, including Matangiri Hajra, were from this zone. The Salt Satyagraha also took place in Digha and this zone is neglected. Digha-Tumluk railway project is yet to see the light of the day. I am told the Minister is very actively considering it, but I do not know whether she will get enough resources. Therefore, I feel that while we are completing the 50th year of the Republic, let us at least salute this route where the entire country's freedom movement was highlighted and from where came great stalwarts like Shri Satish Sawant. He is no more with us. He was in this House. Shri Sushil Dhara is alive. Shri Ajay Mukherjee is no more. They kept the entire area free from the Britishers and established an example before the whole country. That route is still not completed. It is really a pathetic situation. I hope the hon. Minister will take note of it.
I find a very interesting thing in the recommendation made by the hon. Minister, when she was the Chairman of the Standing Committee on Railways. So, I would like to remind the Minister to fulfil her commitment. The Minister very rightly said in the recommendations :
"New projects should be taken up with proper prioritisation keeping in view not only the commercial or economic aspects, but also the social aspects....
I thank the hon. Minister for these words. It further says:
" ... but also the social aspects of serving the people, especially of the remote rural areas, hills and North-Eastern States. There cannot be a set of uniform criteria for every part of the country, whether is developed or under-developed each of the areas has its own peculiarities and unique features. Those are to be taken into consideration while preparing a new project for under-developed areas. The construction of railways will open up certain hitherto unopen backward areas to commercial economic activities. Committee are of the firm view that Ministry of Railways must keep these points in view." Now, the then Chairman herself is the Minister and I bring it to her knowledge that an area in Bengal which is highly dominated by the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes, erstwhile Bangladeshi refugees and Muslims. Rightly, I am representing that area, Uttar Dinajpur. It has not yet been connected to a broad gauge line which is only about 45 to 50 kilometres between Radhikapur and Barasat, the border of Bangladesh. That is the district which gave shelter to one-fourth of the refugees during Bangladesh revolution times, when Indiraji was the Prime Minister. That is the area which withstood shells of Pakistani Yahya Khan's Army, at that time. That is the area which is not connected to the rest of India and a poor treatment is given to it year after year, by the metre gauge connection. It could be converted into broad gauge. The Minister herself in the capacity of Chairman of the Standing Committee on Railways had said that not only commercial but social aspects should also be taken into consideration.