Intro:Railway Buget of 2013-2014 is a realistic assessment of how the railways need to morph in a competitive environment.
Events are taking place one after another in rapid succession which makes it difficult to keep pace with them. Just in one week we had Indian nurses being evacuated from Iraq, after obviously much effort. Then came the Railway Budget to be followed the next day with the announcement of the National Budget. This column deals with the Railway Budget important as it is. Deccan Herald (July 9) called it a mixed bag
The Times of India (July 9) said Gowda “deserves credit for treating passengers with more respect than usual.” “Rail travel” it said, “will hopefully become a less daunting experience with an emphasis on cleanliness and related amenities.” Also, said the paper, “Gowda's promise to review endless stoppage which increase duration of a journey was long overdue.”
The New Indian Express (July 9) called the budget “a responsible one” “without too many populist flashes and carefully balances the need for profit with the organisation's social welfare role.” It said: “to attract massive investment, it is imperative that the existing work culture of Indian Railways is radically changed.” That, said the paper, “calls for restructuring of the present Railway Board.” The paper praised Gowda for “limiting announcements of new projects” while focusing “rightly on completing the existing ones”.
The Hindu (July 9) said Gowda's presentation was full of ideas and policy formulations but lacked concrete proposals or a vision or road map to take the Indian Railways forward. Noting that the budget focused clearly on passenger amenities, the upgradation of the computerised reservation system should be a welcome step, said the paper, adding that “an open invitation to the corporate sector to invest in PPP projects will not, by itself go very far without concrete proposals for land utilisation etc”.
DNA (July 9 ) said the railways which are currently a department of the Government of India “should be separated and organised along the lines of the Oil And Natural Gas Corporation”.
The Asian Age (July 8 ) thought that the Railway Budget is “a tame affair”. According to the paper, the budget is “more a vision statement and a measure of Gowda's intent for the railways in the coming months.” It said Gowda “should have given a time frame for achieving the amenities and proposals he has made”. It argued that where the budget “really fell short is security and safety”. Also, said the paper, “the experience of the railways of the PPP model has not been edifying” and, in fact “it has been a failure in the earlier regime”.
The Telegraph (July 9) said “no government or Railway Minister has raised the fundamental question: Why should the government be involved in the running of the elaborate and complex railway network? Why should not the railways in the spirit of economic, be open to private capital and initiative?”. It is worthy to note, said the paper “that the railways form a separate ministry and is not under the Ministry of Transport”.
Making a realistic The Hindustan Times in its July 9 said the Railway Budget “is a realistic assessment of how the railways need to morph in a competitive environment”. It said: “For long Indian Railways have suffered from low investment and populist policies to subsidise fares, turning the once mighty system into a slow and congested network that crimps economic growth.” Added the paper: “The railways need to build capacity now; think laterally about finance. This appears to be the central message of the Railway Budget”. Gowda, said the paper “has very little money to splurge in any case… The railways' operating ratio—the rupee spent to earn every extra Rs.100 has deteriorated…”
Business Line (July 9) felt that the budget may be lacking in ambition in terms of investment plans and projects… yet “it should be commended for signalling a departure from the beaten track of populism”. Gowda, said the paper, “should also be given credit for stating that the railways will henceforth focus on completing projects rather than on sanctioning new ones.” “It is better” added the paper, “to spend on projects deserving of immediate funding” and warned not to lay too much hope “in attracting investments in the rail sectorbecause these, and also foreign direct investments will take time to materialise”.
The Economic Times (July 9 ) praised Gowda for aiming to make the organisation solvent and said the budget is welcome as are foreign investment, public private partnerships and commercialisation of railway land”.
(The writer is a senior journalist and former editor of Illustrated Weekly)