Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav says that he has done an ?indrajal?? magic with the Railway Budget and shown a ?profit? of Rs 25,000 crore even after giving slew of ?concessions?. Unfortunately enough the media was carried away largely by his rhetoric without caring to go into the reality. That means Lalu has given no concession neither has he made any cut in fares of freight at any level. Sadly the media?except for one or two TV channels and newspapers? gulped whatever the ?magician? tried to force on them.
Lalu announced Rs 21,578 crore as surplus in his 2007-08 budget. The reality is ?the excess for 2006-07 amounts to less than half at Rs 10,206 crore? as given in the detailed Explanatory Memorandum of the budget. Accordingly, there was Rs 416 crore reduced net revenue last year. The budget speech is silent on this non-performance.
This calls for serious introspection. It is unlikely that Railways would have a surplus of Rs 25,000 crore in 2008-09 either. It may even be less than the actual figures of 2007-08.
As one listens live reading the budget on television, his ?nautanki? mesmerizes. What has Lalu given to the passengers? Precious little. Even four per cent cut in fares on sleeper class fare and eight per cent in AC-3 tier and chair car announced in the last year?s?2007-08?budget has not been passed on to the passengers. There was a clause that it would be effected after the introduction of new LHB coaches. Since not many sleeper coaches?with 81 berths, AC-3 tier coaches with 72 berths and chair car with 102 seats?were added, Chairman Railway Board K.C. Jena announced, soon after presentation of the new budget, the benefit could not be given. (The new coaches also compromise on passenger comfort, as berths are narrower and shorter with less legroom and luggage space. Apart from this, the eight seats that are added to the side berths have created ventilation problem. Chair car seats are also narrower).
Lalu'sthis year'sannouncement of 7 per cent cut on AC-I, 4 per cent on AC-2 tier fare are unlikely to benefit the people. The rider, Lalu says, is: ?This reduction will be only 50 per cent for popular trains and during peak period?.
What is the lean season? The Chairman says it means the period between February 1 and March 31 and August 1 and August 31. The rest?nine months?is peak season. So Lalu earns the kudos without having to give anything. What is a popular train? Chairman says it is being worked out but indicated that majority of the trains are in that category.
The jugglery in figures become acute as one reads through the figures. His surpluses include Rs 1250 crore on account of anticipated 6th Pay Commission recommendations?Rs 750 crore in ordinary working expenses and Rs 50 crore in pension fund. It also includes a deferred dividend liability of Rs 664 crore.
But he conceals that his liability on provident fund, retirement benefits and pension have gone up by Rs 500 crore?from Rs 9,706 crore in budget estimates to Rs 1482 crore. It has increased by Rs 428 crore on staff amenities. There has been Rs 598 crore increase in maintenance of plant equipment cost, Rs 657 crore on rolling stock and equipment. On several other heads too similar increases have been indicated. This only reveals that claims in the Railway Budget speech are different from the reality.
There is also an attempt at concealment of figures. After presentation of the 2007-08 budget, without approval of Parliament, ticket cancellation and return ticket booking charges were unilaterally increased three-fold. Tatkal tickets, which were only ten per cent of the total seats, were increased to 30 per cent. The Railway Budget does not reveal the additional earning on this count. When asked for details the Chairman said he did not have figures with him and it had to be worked out.
The budget also does not take into account how much more passengers are shelling out on declaration of 200 trains as superfast.
The Railway Minister appeared very generous in announcing 6 per cent cut in freight rates for goods headed to North-East. But he concealed that one travelling to North-East from Guwahati has to shell out more. Earlier, one could buy a single ticket if one had to change trains for an onward destination. Now, for example, a person travelling from Mumbai to Guwahati could earlier buy a Mumbai-Howrah-Guwahati ticket for Rs 557. Now, he has to buy a Mumbai-Howrah ticket for Rs 517 and another ticket for Howrah-Guwahati for Rs 369. It is estimated that Railways are earning Rs 100 crore at least on this count.
Tatkal surcharge was Rs 100 per ticket. It has increased to Rs 250 per ticket. And all this has been done without any sanction of Parliament.
How did he manage to show the surplus last year (in many cases he has done a repeat this year) ? He had shown Rs 9,000 crore pension funds as cash surplus, included Rs 2500 crore miscellaneous funds as earnings, Rs 1700 crore due to the Indian Railway Finance Commission shown in the profit account, profits were shown to be shored up by showing advance earnings from the coming years budget, hidden costs to passenger tickets earned the Railways
Rs 300 crore and higher tonnage carried by the Railways ignoring safety concerns earned it Rs 5000 crore. (Though it has added to the maintenance costs and rail fractures have gone up).
Lalu Yadav does not add the additional costs on many counts particularly the safety aspects. In his speech, he admits that the number of accidents at unmanned level crossing in 2006-07 (final figures) has increased by 13 per cent as compared to 15 per cent in 2001-02?a year Lalu derides as a period of dire straits ?before the UPA government?. Almost 35 per cent of the total accidents were at level crossings in 2006-07?of a total of 195 accidents 72 were at level crossings.
Higher freight tonnage has led to serious track conditions. Various zonal Railways, including East Coast Railway, Southeastern Railway, Southern Railway and South Central Railway reported higher rail and welding fractures, failure of electric locos, brake beam defects and increased en route detachment due to wagon body bulging, stalling and wheel burns. It has also increased vulnerability of large number of bridges.
The Comptroller and Auditor General has also noted serious concern on this count. It noted in its 2006 report: ?Wagons were overloaded even beyond the axle load tolerance. This was likely to have an adverse impact on track bridges and rolling stock. The railways permitted enhanced loading of wagons without monitoring the impact of enhanced loading.?
The budget does not indicate any step being taken to rectify it?nor does it indicate how much extra it has cost the Railways in repairs on these counts. CAG has also pointed to yet another factor?speed restrictions owing to prolonged continuance of repair works. CAG says it has led to loss of productivity and added several other costs.
So there is no ?indrajal??magic?in Lalu'sbudget. It tries to create an illusion and conceal from the people and its supreme body?Parliament?the reality. The Railways are not in the ship-shape, the minister has tried to picture.