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Rail Budget 2013: It's Punjab's turn now, Mr Bansal

Pawan Kumar Bansal is the first full-time railway minister from north west India in the last 45 years and both Punjab and Haryana are hoping to get favourable treatment.
Full coverage of Rail Budget 2013

Anilesh S. Mahajan        Last Updated: February 25, 2013  | 20:33 IST

Anilesh S. Mahajan
Anilesh S. Mahajan
During the early years of the UPA II government, then Railways minister Mamata Banerjee was taunted for putting West Bengal ahead of her national responsibility. Critics accused her of starting new rail services centred around West Bengal rather than extending the railway network to the other parts of the country. Banerjee's ambition to become West Bengal's chief minister was cited as one of the reasons by critics for the railway minister's focused on her home state.

Pawan Kumar Bansal, the current Railway Minister, does not have any such designs. But when the former junior minister in the finance ministry during the first UPA administration stands up to table the union railway budget, expectations from his home town and home state would not be any less than they were of Banerjee.

Both Punjab and Haryana are hoping to get favourable treatment. If you are the first full-time railway minister from North West India in the last 45 years, expectations are bound to mount. Swaran Singh, in 1967, was the last railway minister from the region, not counting Bansi Lal's brief stint in 1984.

Bansal's ancestral home is in Tapa Mandi, a small town in Sangrur district of Punjab. His constituency is union territory Chandigarh, which serves as the capital of both Punjab and Haryana. It may be good example, as there is no train or railway line that directly links Bansal's home town and constituency. The fundamental problem is that Chandigarh is hardly linked to the rest of Punjab by rail. Barring one train, other lines connecting it to the rest of Punjab first move south into Haryana's Ambala junction. Subsequently, from Ambala, they loop back into Punjab, making for a relatively long journey.

Even if Bansal has to go to his home town from Chandigarh, he has to go on a big loop via Ambala and then take Rajpura junction to reach home. This adds 30 km to a 120-km-long journey. There is one existing 112-km line that is supposed to connect Chandigarh with Ludhiana, which has been under construction for the last 15 years. Now, with Bansal sitting at Rail Bhawan, the Punjab government hopes that this line will be commissioned this year, and that new trains could be announced to run on this line. The Punjab government expects more passenger trains along with the express trains to run from Chandigarh to different cities in the state.

Bansal's advent in the railway ministry has seen a serious effort to upgrade the Chandigarh railway station. An additional Shatabdi train has also started. Moreover, Punjab is also looking for more funds from Bansal for the Rail Coach Factory in Kapurthala and wants Shatabdi trains for Bathinda from Chandigarh and Delhi. And more trains connecting Amritsar with Delhi and Mumbai along with Chandigarh. Punjab is also asking for a Rajadhani or Shatabdi connecting Pathankot.

Punjabis, of course, will hope this son of Punjab is listening.

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