The Lalu Express

lalu.jpgThe IIM teacher with his lessons on profit making is back in the parliament to present this year’s Rail Budget! Mr. Lalu Prasad Yadav, the Railway Minister of India, presented the Railway Budget 2008-09 as, what he titled, ‘Chak De Railway’. The Railways is the highest source of revenue for India and it has been witnessing huge profits under Yadav. Hence, this day was much awaited not only by passengers but by the experts and critics as well. As soon as he started presenting the Budget, Opposition Leaders and Prime Minister Mr.Manmohan Singh could be seen grinning. His introductions to the Budget had names of movies like Goal, Chak De! India and then came the Magnum Opus. Following are the details of the Budget.

· The fares for First Class travelers were cut by 7% and A/C two-tier by 4%.· Second Class fares will cost 5% less for tickets beyond 50 km.· Special concessions have been made for AIDS patients by cutting down 50% of their fare.· 30-50% discount in passenger fares of all Classes for women, and senior citizens.· Free season tickets for girl students till graduation and for boy students till class XII.

· He also promised to launch 53 new Mail and Express trains and 10 new Garib Raths. The new trains in Garib Rath are Delhi-Jaynagari(tri-weekly), Jabalpur-Mumbai (weekly), Jammutavi-Kathgin(weekly), Bangalore-Kochiveli(tri-weekly), Yaswantpuri-Puducherry(tri-weekly), Pune-Nagpur(tri-weekly), Varanasi-Delhi(tri-weekly) and Ranch-Delhi(bi-weekly). Others trains include Amravati-Mumbai Express(bi-weekly), Amritsar-Kochuveli Express(weekly) and Saharsha-Janasebharan Express(weekly). He also proposed a special train between Pune and Delhi for Commonwealth Youth Games from October 12-18.

· New investments to the tune of Rs.35,500 crore have been proposed for the year.

· Safety has also been kept in mind for this year’s budget where CCTV, metal detectors are to be put up at railway stations.

· Automated signaling has been given a boost.

· Fire Detection Systems are to be installed on trains in a phased manner.

· Rs. 2.5 lakh thousand crore have been proposed for IT upgradation.

· Furthermore, all busy unmanned level crossings will be manned. Anti-collision devices will be extended to entire Railways.

· As for infrastructural development, it was decreed that 8 depots will be set up. Delhi-JNPT-North freight corridor was also announced.

· Bulk handling terminals are also expected to be unveiled.

· Freight corridor is to benefit Kalindee Rail. Also, Rs. 1 lakh crore investment has been proposed for multi-model logistic parts.

· Titagarh Wagons will gain from 2,000 new wagons, to be added by 2009. Wagon factories at Mokama and Muzaffarpur are to be transferred to Indian Railways.

· There will be a peak season surcharge on CEM transport.

· New rail coach factory is to be set up in Kerala.

· New wagon-leasing policy was unveiled.

· 200 m loading target was set for cement industry in 2011-12.

· Axel load trains are to be started.40 container terminals are to be added. Furthermore, steel coaches move will benefit JSW STL, Tata Steel, BEML and Texmacho.

· 5,700 vacant posts of RPFs are proposed to be filled.

· PPT schemes through competitive bidding to expected to attract investment in five years. Railway PSUs earned a net profit of Rs. 1,360 crore.

· There was also a proposal to launch Green Toilets on key trains which would stop the dumping of night soil on railway tracks.

· He also proposed to introduce a smart card based ticketing system and upgrade several important railway stations to the next level.

As can be seen, the minister is putting efforts to increasing the number of coaches and their safety. New proposed concessions are suited to the needs of middle class as well as the poor, especially the launch of ‘Garib Raths. The larger question raised by the experts is whether this budget is more of vote politics by Lalu Prasad Yadav, since it largely appeases the middle class.Cynics do point out that the Railway Budget of the past four years have been populist budgets. Furthermore, his ideas or announcements have not exactly been converted into concrete actions. The year 2006 was declared the year for passenger service and yet no financial upliftment was done. In 2007-2008, Lalu had promised to pitch down the railway fares so as to compete with low-fare airlines. However from very beginning, the idea got diluted. It was also announced in the same budget that the Traveling Ticket Examiners (TTE) would be provided with palmtops for ‘on the spot’ reservations and that e-tickets would be made available at post offices, petrol pumps and ATM centers. The minister had then been appreciated from several corners for these announcements. But, none of these got implemented. Where cynics do point out these flaws, the larger reality is that, nevertheless, Railways has been making profits. This fact itself makes Lalu Prasad more or less unquestionable, even though its known the Budget is a populist one.Nevertheless, we can always hope for the best. May this budget profit the passengers as well as the Railways so that success of the world’s largest Railway network can soon be evident.Anupriya Prakash

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