Like in the previous years, there have been many different reactions to this year’s Railway Budget also. But, there is unanimity on one point that this was prepared with an eye on the common man. Presenting her second budget in eight months, the Railway Minister, Ms Mamata Banerjee said in the Lok Sabha yesterday that between the two objectives of economic viability of projects and social responsibility of the Railways, she considered the second one more important. She said that the Indian Railways should provide connectivity to all places and by doing so, target inclusive growth. Ms Banerjee said that she received more than 5000 requests from different sections of the people to connect industrial hubs, tourist centers and religious places but, could not meet all expectations for paucity of funds. Despite this constraint, however, she made an honest beginning to meet the goals she had set in her Vision 2020 document announced some time ago. The Vision 2020 is an ambitious document promising to make the Indian Railways a modern and efficient transport system.
There were a lot of goodies for the common man. Not only the Railway Minister spared the common man from any increase in passenger fare, but also reduced e-ticketing charge from rupees 20 to rupees ten for ordinary class and from rupees 40 to rupees 20 for AC class. In Railway Budget 2010-2011, Ms Banerjee proposed to make e-ticketing facility available at the village Panchayat level. She said that E-ticketing facility will also be available at IITs, IIMs, hospitals and several other places. She is aware that ‘Duranto’ trains, her brain child are quite popular. Unlike the Rajdhani Expresses that connect different places with the national capital, these trains connect one important city with another. Not only are these faster than the Rajdhani Expresses but traveling in these is also cheaper. Keeping the popular demand in mind, she proposed to introduce ten more Duranto trains of which four will run between short distances. She said, there will be free rail travel for cancer patients. The poor will not have to pay the fee for Railway Recruitment Boards examinations. Her announcement that the RRBs will henceforth conduct examinations in regional languages besides Hindi and English was hailed by the students and youths across the country. To provide fresh drinking water to passengers, the Railway Minister proposed to set up bottling plants at many stations. She said that the Railways have already signed MoUs with Health and HRD ministry to set up diagnostic centers, hospitals, crèches and Navodaya Vidyalayas in railway land. Besides, Janata Ahar will be available in trains at reasonable price.
Ensuring safety and security of passengers was given top priority. The Indian Railways runs about 17,000 trains and carries more than 18 million passengers daily. Considering the volume of the traffic, this is certainly a huge task. The Minister said that there are more than 17000 unmanned crossings in the Indian Railways, of which 3000 will be manned in 2010 and the remaining within the next four years. Besides, Auto fire and smoke alarm systems will be introduced in the Railways. Anti-collision devices which have already been introduced in the NF Railway will be extended to other Railways. To beef up security of women passengers, she said that a Mahila Bahini comprising women constables will be raised. She also looked forward to amending the Railway Protection Force Act to revamp the force.
The Railway Minister rightly deserves kudos for keeping the interests of all regions of the country while preparing the budget. This is the first time, railway line will be laid in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands from Port Blair to Diglipur. The Railway Budget also spoke of giving priority to North Eastern region where several existing routes will be extended. She said, altogether 21 routes will be extended and 117 new trains will be introduced to increase connectivity between different regions of the country. There was good news for rail passengers of Mumbai for which there will be 101 new suburban trains. There will be new coach factories in Rai Bereiley in Uttar Pradesh, Kanchrapara in West Bengal, Perambore in Tamil Nadu, Madhepura in Bihar and Koraput in Orissa. In Bangalore in Karnataka, the Railways will set up a state of the art Design and Development center. The Railway Minister said that the Railways need about 80,000 more wagons and to meet the shortage five more wagon factories will be set up including Bhubaneswar in Orissa, Secunderabad in Andhra Pradesh and Guwahati in Assam. Ten auto hubs will also be set up in different states.
It is common knowledge that Ms Banerjee has a penchant for striking the patriotic chord. This was evident when she announced the renaming of several stations after Shaheed Bhagat Singh, Tipu Sultan, Bahadur Shah Jaffar, Mother Teresa and legendary foot baller Gosto Pal in extended Kolkata Metro rail project which will continue to receive priority. There was good news for sports lovers also. The Railways, besides setting up ten sports academies across the country will be co-sponsors of the up coming Common Wealth Games. The Minister reminded the Lok Sabha that the nation will be celebrating Rabindranath Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary this year and to commemorate the occasion the Railways will run a train to Dhaka in Bangladesh where the national poet spent many years of his life. The Railways will set up Tagore Museaum at Howrah and Gitanjali Memorial at Bolpur near Shantiniketan in West Bengal. She named special trains to connect different tourist centers after a famous poem of the poet ‘Bharat Tirth’.
Drawing satisfaction from the fact that employee-management relation in the Railways remained cordial, the Railway Minister announced that all railway employees will get houses in the next ten years. In the same breathe, she announced that the Railways will not be privatized but adopt a business model to increase efficiency. There is no proposal for freight hike. Instead keeping in view the common man’s plight because of rising prices of food grains and other essential commodities, the Railways will reduce freight for food grains, kerosene and fertilizer. The Railway Minister said that by resorting to various austerity measures, they have succeeded in making a saving of 2000 crore rupees and this helped her to avoid any passenger fare or freight hike. She took pride in the fact the Railways have surpassed the freight loading target for the current year despite 2009 being a year of recession. Gross earning of the Railways also exceeded by about 88,000 crore rupees.
In the last 50 years, the Railways have set up an average of 180 kilometers per year. But, the Railway Minister set an ambitious target of setting up 25,000 kilo meter of new lines by 2020 in her Vision document. Reminding the House that she had fulfilled most of her promises given in her last Railway Budget, Ms Banerjee announced that she proposed to lay 1000 kilometer of new line in 2010. She proposed that the Railways will continue with its modernization and expansion plans by introducing more and more high speed trains and to meet the funds requirement, she said that the Railways will resort to Private-public partnership in the new projects.
Disclaimer : The views expressed by the author in this feature are entirely his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of invc.