(This article was originally written for the CNN-IBN blog)
So, the first Railway Budget of the new decade is now out of the bag. It won’t be wrong to say that it is on expected lines considering the track record of the incumbent Railway Minister, Ms Mamta Banerjee i.e. High on populism.
The good news for the commuters is that the train fares have not been raised. Seven years without any increase in fare, must be some sort of a record in an inflation ridden world. The transportation of essential commodities like food grains, kerosene and fertilisers will attract lower freight rates. Commendable effort provided the benefits are passed onto the consumers.
The reduction of the maximum limit of service charge on e-booking of tickets to Rs 10 for sleeper class and Rs 20 for AC class is a step in the right direction as such savings through technological interventions will encourage more and more people to use such services and could go a long way in completely removing dependence on manpower for such low end services in near future. Launching of new suburban services in infra-structurally constrained cities like Mumbai and in Kolkata and Chennai is the need of the hour.
Announcements regarding introduction of new trains, passenger services etc didn’t have anything new to add and one could say that were on expected lines. The onus is now on Railway Minister to implement them.
Though ideas like public-private partnership mode for high-speed passenger train corridors, special structure for the new business model aimed at reducing administrative and procedural delays to encourage potential investors etc, did find mention in her speech but lack of any concrete plan to turn them into reality makes one apprehensive that they may turn out to be mere lip service.
Providing free housing to the railway employees too has populist touch. Especially such announcements following the introduction of sixth pay commission introduction won’t help the deficit levels of Indian railways. The steps to enhance the safety as well as security levels for passengers too have been met with platitudes like manning of unmanned signals and launching of pilot projects on fire detection. Any speculation on privatisation of the Indian Railways has been put to rest by the railway minister.
The Railway minister might portray this railway budget as inclusive and visionary but her success will now depend upon how effectively can she fulfil her promise. We can say that the budget was a toned down version of her predecessors' (Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav ) both in terms of content as well as presentation.
Now the Union Budget beckons!!