Budget: Bansal did a Chidambaram, what will PC do?

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New Delhi, Feb 27: Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal did a nice P Chidambaram act yesterday. Like his finance minister colleague, Bansal beautifully analysed the challenges before the railways, and then did nothing beyond it.

He spoke of committee on rationalisation of fares and hinted at fare revision twice a year, based on fuel cost. However, there was no talk of route rationalisation.

It is okay to announce new trains in every budget, but has any minister looked at the routes they want to run the train service? With India rapidly becoming urbanised, it is important to look at short haul services. The short haul route takes care of decongesting an urban centre with small cities as cluster habitation.

P Chidambaram and Pawan Kumar Bansal

The case in point are Bangalore, Mumbai, and Delhi clusters with nearby cities absorbing or retaining the population. the public can commute to these metros for work or business on short haul train services. This way the population does not put strain on metro resources and also contribute to the development of cluster townships. In this direction Bansal does not make any suggestions.

Another smart but unreliable instrument to raise resources was mentioned by the minister. Bansal tempts us with Rs 1 lakh crore in funds through PPP (public private participation) method. The PPP has not seen much success in India except in BOT (build operate and transfer) system.

"An ambitious target of Rs 1,00,000 crore has been set to attract investments thr­ough PPP route during the 12th plan. This is a challenging area for IR considering the capital intensive, long gestation nature of rail infrastructure projects and limited success achieved so far," Bansal said in his budget speech.

By his own admission it is ambitious and the governments lack ambition except in the case of individual politicians. One hopes that this PPP bias does not fuel the ambitions of private players in usurping premium railway land and property. Another scam in the making?

While Bansal did only big talk without a vision to lift the railways from the bankruptcy of ideas and funds, not much is expected from Chidambaram tomorrow.

With pressure from rating agencies, Chidambaram may resort to financial jugglery and address the votebank, in this case the growing numbers of middle class. Like Bansal, the finance minister may sell goodies similar to Wi-Fi or premium Anubhuti coaches, and forget the fundamental fallacies in the economy.

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