Sunday, February 27, 2005
With Laloo being busy with Bihar Elections, one wonders what role did he play in making the Railway budget presented y'day. Not surprisingly his indifference has made it a less embarassing budget! The budget has some populist measures like freebies to students, farmers etc. Although its not good for the railway bottomline, whats wrong if the railway money is being wasted on students and farmers?! Besides there is no hike in freight or passenger charges across the board. I am happy with this. Not b'cos I am yet another ordinary middle class Indian, but because it makes sense too. Freight charges were raised last year resulting in more freight moving to roadways! There's no point in raising fares of second class passengers although they are heavily subsidised. Railways are supposed to provide affordable transport to large sections of people. I believe this purpose will be defeated if we were to put railway bottomline ahead of this obligation. Again higher class fares have also not been raised. I find nothing wrong with this too. With increasing competition from airlines, railways cannot infinitely raise higher class fares. Already the disparity between second class and higher class fares is ridiculusly high. (CPM leader Gurudas Kamat is furious that AC fares have not been raised!!!) I said the budget is less embarassing b'cos there are no mindless soaps to Bihar.. may be b'cos the elections were over b'fore the budget! Having said that there are very few new schemes to any part of the country. Most of the new trains (46) announced were either already running or never will!! For Tamilnadu few new trains have been introduced or extended. Again these are not going to make much difference. Railway safety has again been ignored. We can expect good population reduction this year too! Mostly its been a status quo budget. Reason: Railway is cash strapped and the Singh parivar (Manmohan and Montek Singh Ahluwalia) has refused to bail it out! But there are few good beginnings... Freight charge slabs have been rationalised, new Wagan Investment scheme has been announced etc. One day Railway must become something like a Railway Authority of India Limited (RAIL!!) managing Stations and Rail roads and running PSUs like IRCON, CONCOR, IRCTC, ICF and Chittaranjan locomotives. Running trains, providing services both on and off the train, ticketing etc should be left to private players or PSU's. And finally some questions: Why can't we have a scheme like Unigauge 2008 which will ensure every single piece of railway track is broad guage by 2008 (at the current rate this can't be achieved in a century), why are trains in India still running at 100 KMS ?, Why do we always have populist lunatics as railyway minister? This is serious infact. Consider the railway ministers in the last 15 years. Jaffer Sharief, Ram Vilas Paswan, Nitish Kumar, Mamata Banerjee, Laloo Yadav. How I wish a forward looking politician had been made the Railway minister. Afterall Railways can easily be an engine for rapid growth in India.