“We have created an organization where every child in this country will say Chak-de Railways! Everybody is happy with the Railways.” Any guesses as to who could have said this? No doubt, it is none other than our beloved Railway Minister Mr. Lalu Prasad who has made this statement and wooed the “aam admi” with his extensive plans to modernize railways in a phenomenal way in his fifth Railway Budget. He certainly knows the art of drafting brilliant budgets, and he unfailingly comes up with ideas that would fetch him great political mileage. Not disappointing us in any way, this year too he makes his statement in style.
At the outset of the parliamentary session on the Budget, he kick-started his speech with statistics describing his work in the past 4 years and congratulated the 1, 40, 000 railway employees for their work. Keeping the psyche of the common man in mind, he has come up with a 5% cut in the second-class fares for distances beyond 50 kilometers, with ticket fares for Third AC cut by 3%, fares for Second AC cut by 4 per cent and fares for First AC cut by 7%, passengers are poised to avail large comforts.
He has simultaneously proposed the selective imposition of surcharges to increase revenues from freights.Modernization and tackling general problems have been the central theme of his Budget. Introduction of 53 new trains and 10 new ‘garib-raths’ has been one of the most remarkable promises the Budget has made. There has also been a provision for increasing the frequency of a few trains and extending the routes of some others.
Keeping the Commonwealth Games 2010 in mind, a special train between Delhi and Pune has been planned. A special focus has also been laid on rail facilities in the North Eastern region. It seems that Chak-de India has really inspired him for good!Station infrastructure comes next on his agenda, with about 200 stations getting foot-over bridges and installment of escalators in 50 big stations. Considering that a large number of people cross railway lines in stations to go from one platform to another, these facility are extremely important in the view of prevention of accidents and efficient crowd management. How could an Indian Railway Budget be complete without mentioning the reforms for toilets, which by and large are the one of the most pressing problems that the Indian Railways face today?
The Railway Minister has come up with an innovative idea of “green” toilets in all trains and has assigned a sum of 4000 crores for this task. If this is implemented, it would be a great relief for passengers traveling in trains, especially on the long distance routes.Railway bookings have always been a huge problem. However, Lalu promises that long queues are going to become passé within the next two years with mobile phone services to be introduced for speedy booking. Interestingly, the Budget has been very gender sensitive in its allocation. Ticket concession has been extended for the senior women citizens from 30 to 50 per cent in all classes. He has also proposed a plan for student concession in train fares. Girls pursuing education up to graduation and boys up to Class XII will now get free season tickets in Second class.
Lalu’s Budget has received tremendous public support and that’s exactly for whom it was designed. He has been hailed for his Budget, besides receiving the customary offensive remarks from the Opposition which he brushed aside with confidence. However, nowhere can it be denied that the Budget is indeed populist and the reductions of fares have been very marginal. There has been hardly any mention about cleanliness of the railway stations, which is equally important as all other reforms. His approach seems to be nuanced but the feasibility of some reforms could be questionable. In the context of the nearing state and general elections, the Budget is crucial for the UPA Government and the success of the Budget is tied to the success of the Coalition. For now, let’s hope that the Railway Budget proposed by our Railway Minister changes the face of the Indian Railways in the times to come.
Rohini Ram Mohan