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The Railway Budget

That the UPA 2 government has become a total circus has never been made clearer than yesterday at the Railway Budget. It is like a headless and gutless chicken flailing about in all directions. The extent of indecision is such that I and many others must consider whether we even bother elaborating of the railway budget. With the political fallout, it seems very likely that the budget that shall be passed will be a shadow of the one announced yesterday. Anyhow, I am jumping the gun a bit.

The railway budget was announced yesterday by Dinesh Trivedi, the railway minister. The Railway budget was set against the background of railways’ incredibly poor financial condition. In his first budget, modernisation of the railways & safety were Trivedi’s mantras. But for all the prose he used, there wasn’t much to talk about.

However one key talking point, for which Trivedi is expected to face the sack, was the increase in prices across all classes. The hike in fair is marginal, from 2 paise per km for 2nd class suburban (local train) passengers to 20 paise per km for AC-1. This much needed hike in fare is incredibly the first in 9 years. And in these 9 years the cost of living has almost increased 10 times. No wonder the railways are suffering financially. This increase in fair is expected to raise an additional Rs. 4,000cr in revenue, that is of course if the TMC allows it.

Highlights of the budget
  • Plans to hire 100,000 new employees this year.
  • Platform tickets to cost Rs 5 from existing Rs 3.
  • Installation of 321 escalators at important stations of which 50 will be commissioned in 2012-13.
  • Upgradation of 929 stations as Adarsh Stations including 84 stations proposed in 2012-13
  • Addition of 725 km new lines in one year
  • 700 km doubling , 800 km of gauge conversion and 1100 km electrification of lines targeted in 2012-13
  • 75 new Express trains to be introduced.
  • Focus during next five years on five areas: tracks, bridges, signalling, rolling stock and stations.
  • Three ‘Safety Villages’ to be set up at Bengaluru, Kharagpur and Lucknow for skill development for disaster management.
  • Escorting of trains by RPF/GRP extended to 3,500 trains.
  • To set up an independent Railway Safety Authority as a statutory body.
The budget, on the whole, is not much to talk about. There is nothing ground-breaking about it, nor should we expect any radical changes in the railways in the near future. Like last year’s railway budget, many of the promises are long term. And we all know how the government loves keeping its promises! There was no word about pending projects in Mr. Trivedi’s speech either. Anyhow the budget is not bad. It’s been widely accepted by the public, though that’s perhaps we expect so little from the govt. these days. The increase in fare has been widely commended.

The political fallout of the budget is far, far more interesting. While the Congress and PMO termed the budget as “forward looking”, allies TMC and Mamata Banerjee have gone on record saying they will not accept the increase in fare. TMC are screaming for the head of Dinesh Trivedi, who ironically belongs to the TMC. The Opposition has done what it does best and opposed the budget. Lalu believes that the budget has lost its social objective! This so called pro-poor or “aam aadmi” followed by most parties is likely to run the railways into the ground. Mr. Trivedi must, therefore, be praised for going against party whip to look out for national interests. Of course, it is unlikely that he will be allowed to continue on as railway minister.

Over the last 3 days, the PM has come out twice to assert that the govt. has the numbers. I think the idea is that if you say it loud, you believe it. The govt. is likely to be blackmailed into announcing a roll-back of the fare hike, as it seeks to keep the fragile alliance in place. But it might be a good time to get your voter id cards made. We might still have early polls, that is, if the PM finally decides to show some balls. Wishful thinking?


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