By : Dr. Amir Ullah Khan
The Rail budget detailed a vision for 2020. Suresh Prabhu is a no nonsense minister who enjoys the Prime Minister’s confidence. When he began speaking on his budget, most of us were ready to hear some bold announcements and a new business strategy. What followed was staid. The rail minister did not announce any increase in passenger fares and said that freight rates would be changed later. He said that railways will achieve 95% punctuality by 2020. He also said that on demand anytime reservation would be started. Passenger trains will run at an average speed of 80 kilometers per hour while goods trains would run at 50. Platforms would be cleaned and information screens would be installed on various platforms. All this sounds great, the problem is that the minister will deliver all these only by 2020.
The here and now promises sound familiar and unoriginal. The Humsafar train with 3 AC compartments looks like a renamed Gharib rath. The rail minister promised a Tejas express that will run at 130 kilometers an hour, but this what the Shatabdi does already. There is a long distance, unreserved train that has been announced. Among the specific things promised are new uniforms for coolies, wifi facilities in 400 stations and songs that would play in some trains.
General compartments would have chargers for mobiles. Stations in pilgrim centers would be cleaned and spruced up. Two elevated train tracks will be built in Mumbai and Delhi would get a ring rail. Kolkata’s metro would be augmented. 2800 kilometers of track would be electrified and 30000 bio toilets installed in various trains. The Indian rail runs 11000 trains and has nearly 8500 rail stations. For such a large network, these announcements are clearly too little and too slow. There also doesn’t seem be any urgency on safety measures.
There was no mention of how Indian rail will overcome the huge losses it makes every year and where money would come from to make investment in new tracks and safety equipment. The budget also did not explain how it would earn 1.84 lakh crores next year while passenger traffic is steadily falling as people prefer air and road travel. With falling traffic and no increase in tariff, it is anyone’s guess on how the minister aims at increasing revenues by 10 per cent this year. An incremental effort and not the brave new paradigm shift that we were expecting.
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