Raising his voice through the din of the House, i.e. slogans raised by the NDA opposition on Ottavio Quattrochhi, Railway Minister Shri Lalu Prasad Yadav claimed that for the first time in the history of Indian Railways, it has earned a profit of Rs 20,000 crore. And for that reason he patted his own back by saying, ?Even though people are giving me the credit for the turnaround of the Railways?? He further stated: ?With all humility I would like to share with the august House that this miracle has been brought about through the tireless efforts of 14 lakh railway employees?.?
But as his speech went on, it was made clear that after the payment of the dividend and deferred dividend, surplus was expected to be Rs 10,627 crore. That was his crafty way of misleading the unsuspecting common man who was just waiting for the passenger fare increase or decrease portion to come by.
He of course did not disappoint the passengers not only with no rise in the fare but even with a token reduction of Re 1 in the non-suburban ordinary passenger and non-superfast Mail-Express train daily tickets. Add to that the reduction in the first AC, Second AC, and Third AC and Chair Car class fares from two per cent to four per cent in the peak seasons and four to eight per cent in the non-peak seasons. In the popular trains, the AC class fare reductions would remain uniform with four per cent throughout the year. Similarly the First AC, and AC-2 class popular train fares would be reduced by three per cent and two per cent respectively throughout the year. With a cash surplus of Rs 10,000 crore plus, why can'the afford such fare reductions? But this was his compulsions while his oganisation has got to compete with ever expanding cheap airlines.
Shri Yadav have on many occasions thanked ?his vision? for bringing such a turnaround of the railways. And comparing his last year'sfigures with the figure of 2001, paragraph after paragraph, when the railways was at its nadir financially and it was then led by his bete noire Shri Nitish Kumar, the present Bihar Chief Minister, he has tried very hard not to leave aside any chance for reminding the listeners of his God-endowed visionary exceptiona-lities.
But delve into the pages of his budgetary speech minutely, one will find that of the current year's(2007-08) Railway'stotal receipts of Rs 65,978.13 crore, Rs 42,290 crore came only out of freight movement. Similarly for the projections for the next fiscal (2007-08) a freight earning of Rs 46,943 crore would boost the total receipts to Rs 73,442.47 crore.
With an average of more than eight per cent plus GDP growth witnessed by the country for the last three years, it is natural for the country to witness substantial manufacturing growth and the raw materials being brought to the manufacturing hub and finished goods being taken out to the market or ports for export. And here comes the role of the Railways in transporting the raw materials and finished goods. Shri Yadav compares the cash reserve of mere Rs 359 crore in 2001 to his Rs 10,000 crore plus this year. But does he have any role to play in the nine per cent GDP growth of this country and how has he motivated such growth, the glimpse of any such wizardry he could not hint at Patna during his 15 years of family rule there?
Fiscal projection declines
The hard reality of this year'sBudget is the under investment and constrained capacity bites. Though for the current year the revenue growth projection is 16 per cent, in the next fiscal projection it has gone down to 12.8 per cent. Even in the year 2005-06 the revenue growth was 15 per cent. Thus the growth trajectory of the railways is lower than the probable growth in the economy. Railway now fails to keep up with the rest of the economy.
Shri Yadav in this year'sbudget proposals made provisions for three-decker container trains. Public private participation will augment this sector and 15 private container licences have already been issued. Further routes to mineral-rich areas are to be opened and to the planned power plants new rail lines are to be constructed. And to augment more freight movement, construction on freight corridor is to start from 2007.
Passenger amenities augmentation
Tickets for railways are to be obtained from ATM machines, petrol pumps and post offices. Smart rail travel cards are to be introduced for such purposes also. About 800 more coachers are to be added to the popular trains to carry more passengers. The number of unreserved coaches in each newly introduced long distance trains are to be increased from four to six.
New coaches are to be introduced wherever necessary for milk and vegetable vendors. Wooden seats in unreserved coaches are to be replaced with cushioned seats. Senior citizens are to get more lower berths in the reserved coaches. Women above 45 travelling alone would also avail such privilege. 50 per cent concession on tickets to students going to appear in the state and central government recruitment tests would be granted. There shall be specially designed coaches for disabled. And TTEs would be provided with handheld computer terminals through which wait-listed passengers could be provided berths.
Safety an ordinary concern
The Rs 17,000 crore Special Railway Safety fund set up by Nitish Kumar has already been exhausted through the renewal of overaged tracks, bridges, track circuiting and rolling stocks.
But the anti-collision device introduced during Nitish Kumar'stime has not yet been successfully implemented and its test in NF Railways will take another one year. The devise would successfully prevent accidents. Railway has failed to achieve this end.
Trains to UP and Bihar
When proposals have been made for the introduction of 32 pairs of new trains, majority of trains, have gone to election-bound UP, Congress-led Maharashtra and of course Bihar. For the construction of new line a provision of Rs 1580.20 crore and for doubling Rs 2002 crore and for gauge conversion Rs 2704.31 crore have been allocated. Priority has been given to certain strategic lines.
But the major failure of this Railway Budget is not fixing a deadline for the completion of the construction of new lines. It is good that only five new line construction have been taken up while doubling and gauge conversion are a must for the railways.
Shri Lalu Prasad Yadav displayed his cunningness when, while presenting his first Railway Budget in 2004 he selected Chhapra, his own constituency in Bihar to have a wheel and axle plant with Rs 1000 crore plus plan outlay. This time he is having an electric loco works at Madhepura, his previous constituency with Rs 1300 crore budget. In the meantime he has proposed a rail coach factory at Rae Bareily, Smt. Sonia Gandhi'sconstituency.
Will an MP have to be a VIP or Railway Minister to have a railway project in his constituency?