Indian Railways which is one of the largest carriers in the world, faces major financial crunch and spends 94 paise out of every rupee and earns meagre 6 paise. Mr Gowda who faced severe criticism by Opposition due to sudden hike of 14.2 % in the rail fare reiterated that the medicine may act bitter in the beginning but will be a nectar in the end.
"Fare hike alone can't improve Railways. We need to look at other avenues," said Mr Gowda while present the new Government's first budget.
Better food, passenger amenities, cleanliness in the offing
Railway Minister Sadananda Gowda has much to offer in order to strengthen the institutional mechanism of the world's second largest transportation network. Better food, women safety, bullet trains, passenger friendly platforms with availability of foot over bridges, escalator, lifts at all major stations is a welcome proposal. Indian Railways is known for being unfriendly for differently abled persons unlike airports but the proposal to introduce battery operated cars for differently abled and senior citizens at all stations is welcomed. The Government is also to provide workstations in select trains for business travellers as a pilot project.
Keeping in mind the hygiene and health conditions, the railways also introduced pre-cooked and ready to eat meals of reputed brands. Serving hygienic and affordable food in trains will make sure Indian Railways maintain its brand.
"I propose to introduce pre-cooked and ready to eat meals of reputed brands. Catering has been an issue. Improving quality and hygiene by introducing pre-cooked meals by reputed brands. Severe action will be taken against vendors delivering unhygienic food, including cancellation of contracts," said Railway Minister Sadananda Gowda in Lok Sabha.
Little has been done in the last decade to ensure cleanliness of trains and platform of some of the major stations. Railway managements proposal to outsource cleaning responsibility on 50 stations to specialise cleaning agencies is a positive move in this direction.
The Budget has also proposed schemes to facilitate procurement of parcel vans, special milk tanker trains, setting up private freight terminals based on ppp model. For the convenience of travellers the online ticketing has also been proposed to make it easier and have suggested E-ticketing in order to bring transparency in administration to replace the existing reservation system.
Rs 40,000 crore investment proposed for track renewals
Setting up Railways University for technical and non technical subjects have also been proposed to bring improve managerial skills which can increase the level of implementation of projects. In a bid to modernise railways other proposals are also in the cards like passengers to order food through sms/phone on board, mobile based wake-up call and updates for all passengers including wi-fi on major stations. Going digital in the railways Mr Gowda also proposed paperless railway office for 5 years.
Women and passenger safety
Women and passenger safety has been is of paramount importance in a country where over 90 per cent of population travels by trains. The budget thus proposes to recruit 4000 women RPF constables to ensure safety of women passengers. The frequent train accidents has also been dominating the news and the pressure was already mounting on the Government to increase safety of passengers. A month and a half old Railway Minister also proposed Rs 40,000 crore investment for track renewals, elimination of unmanned railway crossings and road over bridges.
Seeking Cabinet nod to allow FDI
Indian railways which is currently incurring heavy losses despite 100% monopoly and advance payments, definitely needs alternate sources of resource mobilization. According to the Railway Minister there are 359 unfinished railway projects while projects are still pending for the last 30 years. This may be due to lack for funds and proper implementation but the sector which contributes to over 1 % of GDP cannot afford frequent fare hikes as it will draw criticism and ire of the people. FDI in infrastructure projects and pursuing private-public partnership can only boost the finances of the cash-strapped railways. In order to revive the ailing railway, the Budget also introduced bullet train in Mumbai-Ahmedabad sector and setting up Diamond quadrilateral network connecting major metros.
Implementation need of the hour
The budget has almost everything to offer on lines of international standards but its far away from implementation and execution of projects. India being the growth centre, world class facilities introduced in the budget are a positive sign. But need of the hour is proper implementation of some of the pending projects which are as old as 30 years.
Why railway was profitable under Lalu
Surplus revenue has declined in the railways but under former Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav who bankrupted Bihar turned it into a surplus of Rs 25,000 crore. How did he do it? The former Bihar Chief Minister introduced the must hyped chai in kullad and Bihar's ethnic food like lithi and chokha in the trains to reduce the cost. He also decided to run faster, longer and heavier trains and reduced detention time and frequency of inspections. Hike in passenger fare was ruled out but freight rates were raised for door-to door cargo like iron ore. He also introduced cheap fares for poor by keeping second class coach fares constant while allowing the railways to charge extra for everything else in line with demand. As a result revenue was raised with improvement in services.
If railways can be profitable under Lalu prasad yadav than it can also be under the current railway Minister if right policies and developmental projects are implemented. The Budget is full of bitter medicines to cure the ailing railways but only proper implementation will help.