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PMO tightens grip on railways

Last updated on: June 1, 2011 10:05 IST

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Saubhadra Chatterji & Sudheer Pal Singh in New Delhi

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has tightened his grip on the railway ministry while holding temporary charge after Mamata Banerjee's exit following the West Bengal assembly elections.

On Monday, Railway Board, the apex body in the ministry, issued a circular that the Prime Minister's Office would handle all projects worth Rs 100 crore (Rs 1 billion) and above.

The circular also said higher administrative grade appointments would be handled by the PMO.

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Image: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Photographs: Reuters
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This means big-ticket projects, including the Rs 77,000-crore (Rs 770-billion) Dedicated Freight Corridor project, will come under the prime minister.

Other projects in this category are the high-speed rail link to Bengaluru airport (Rs 6,900 crore or Rs 69 billion), the Indo-Bangladesh rail link (Rs 251 crore or Rs 2.51 billion) and the Madhepura locomotive factory (Rs 1,290 crore or Rs 12.9 billion).

According to a railway official, officers of the rank of joint secretary and above, too, will be appointed by the PMO, according to the circular.

The circular, distributing work between the PMO and three ministers of state, was issued on May 30.

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"All powers exercised by the earlier Cabinet minister will be exercised by the PM now," a senior railway official told Business Standard.

The PMO will be looking after the railways at a time its operating ratio (the money spent to earn Rs 100) is worsening.
It was as high as 90.5, 94.7 and 92.1 during 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11, respectively.

Fund balances for 2010-11 slipped from the budgeted Rs 5,062 crore (Rs 50.62 billion) to Rs 3,100 crore (Rs 31 billion).

In the current financial year, they may tumble another 56 per cent to Rs 1,365 crore (Rs 13.65 billion).

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Image: Mukul Roy.

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Mukul Roy, Trinamool Congress member of the Parliament and minister of state who was shifted from the shipping ministry, has been given undertakings such as Indian Railway Catering and. Tourism Corporation (IRCTC), Rail India Technical and Economic Services (RITES), Indian Railway Construction Company (IRCON) and Current Research Information System (CRIS).

He will also field questions related to the ministry in Parliament.

Apart from Roy, the ministry has two more ministers of state -- K H Muniappa and Bharatsinh Solanki.

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Image: Passengers in Kolkata Metro.
Photographs: Jayanta Shaw/Reuters
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Both belong to the Congress.

But, the PMO has decided to keep Container Corporation of India.

Concor, incorporated in March 1988, started operations in November 1989.

It has taken over the seven inland container depots of the railways.

Top sources in the Congress claim the PMO's control over the railways is unlikely to be temporary and will endure even after the proposed Cabinet reshuffle.

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Image: People wait for a suburban train to stop at a railway station in Mumbai.
Photographs: Arko Datta/Reuters
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There is a possibility that Roy will not be elevated to the Cabinet minister's level and will be made a minister of state with an independent charge.

Mamata Banerjee has indicated that she is not averse to seeing Roy as a minister of state (independent charge).

Government managers also told Business Standard that being a minister of state (independent charge) does not prevent Roy from presenting the Railway Budget.

"Madhavrao Scindia once presented rail budget as a minister of state (independent charge)," said a government manager.


Image: A man crosses a railway bridge on Teesta River near Siliguri.
Photographs: Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters
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