Rail Budget 2014: Setting a trend in right direction
Proposals of hi-speedsemi hi-speed trains, diamond quadrilateral network, branded food packets, RO water, online booking of retiring rooms, guest houses, etc, wi-fi facilities at A-one and A category stations, efforts for cleanliness and bio-toilets, etc are the praiseworthy proposals in the maiden Railway budget of Modi government. The budget presented on July 8 shows the determination and direction of Modi Government. This budget has set a new dream combining the Western parameters with the Bharatiya chintan.
The Indian Railways has the biggest network with 1.16 lakh kilometers line, transporting more than 2.30 crore passengers and three million tonne goods on daily basis. By virtues of its largest network, the budget for railways is presented separately. Its management is spread in 13 departments viz operating, commercial, engineering, mechanical, electrical, signal and telecommunication, medical, security, safety, accounts, personnel, statistics and store like various ministries under Union Government. More importantly, Railway is a commercial organisation with social obligation. So, the motive is not to earn only profit. The situation in Railways is precarious and erroneous handling of the tariff issue has worsened it. Economic health of railways is like a patient in ICU, passengers amenities and facilities are in the worst condition and the safety of passengers is in jeopardy, 317 projects are yet to be completed, which needs investment of Rs 50,000 crore per year. The routine total revenue yield is Rs 1.45 lakh crore and expenditure is Rs 1.39 lakh crore. Many projects are incomplete and various parts of the country are still not connected by rail network. It was a tight rope walk for Rail Minister Sadanand Gawda to work within these limitations.
No doubt this first budget has been prepared in haste due to paucity of time. Traditional bureaucratic thinking is still holding the government back. When it comes to revenue generation, it is a common perception that if the leakage and loss of revenue, theft and clams and corruptions are controlled, the iron tracks of railway may be converted in golden tracks. Always to increase only the fare and freight is very laymen’s easiest way to raise the revenue. Other means to generate revenue as well as to regulate and control the unproductive expenditure are equally important. The proposal to generate 500 megawatt electricity through solar energy panel fitted on railway land and building is a praiseworthy step in this regard. The routine proposals of new trains, laying down new lines, gauge conversion and track maintenance, etc have also got back true all India character rather than regional considerations. High speed trains and AC trains have positively connected to the aspiring middle class. Considering the nature of Indian commuters and past experiences, feasibility and maintenance are key issues that government will have to address in coming days.
Commercial use of surplus land of railway retaining the ownership right intact may be other field from where revenue generation may be created. The invitation of 100 per cent FDI in it can be disastrous in long term. Better we should keep the FDI away from train operation and restrict it only to modernisation of stations, laying down new lines, electrification, hi-speed corridor, etc.
The budget has allocated meager Rs 2200 crore on the sensitive issue of safety. Anti-collision and anti-fogging devices should be fitted in the trains. Daily passengers holding MSTQST of shorter distance are the hazard for long distance passengers. Therefore, its fare structure should be revised and separate local trains should be earmarked for these passengers. Discussion should be initiated to bring railways and road transport under one ministry so that both may function as complimentary to each other and not as competitors.
Lastly, the staff is backbone of railway. At a time there were 22 lakh employees but now only 13 lakh left. Rail passengers have increased double during the last decade and 2.5 lakh employees decreased during this decade, whereas work load increased manifold. The size of administrative officers, who are nothing but white elephants, has been increased. Job evaluation and multi-skilling are essential to increase the efficiency. Opening of railway university and summer internship proposal are also appreciable. Over all, the budget has set a trend in right direction which is to be extended and rationalised in the coming years.
Lakshmi Prasad Jaiswal (The writer is social worker & ex-rly employee)