Indian Railway Budget: “High on Hype, Low on Content”

Indian Railway
Indian Railway

The Railway Budget presented today by the Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu promises better rail infrastructure in the country without increasing the fares for consumers.

However, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) has termed the Rail Budget for 2015-16 as “high on hyperbole but low on content.”

In fact, according to CPI-M, the Budget has spelt out certain intentions with scarce factual details to translate these ideas into reality.

The party says during the first three years of the 12th Five Year Plan, the railways received only Rs. 1.5 lakh crores for investment. Yet, the Railway Minister bombastically promised that in the coming five years, this will increase to Rs. 8.56 lakh crores.

“Although the Railway Minister asserted that Indian Railways will continue to remain an asset of the people but the extent to which he wanted to raise resources for critical infrastructure through the Public Private Partnership (PPP), Build-Own-Transfer (BOT) models raises serious questions,” says CPI-M.

It further says the budgetary allocations for extending railways to backward and far flung areas and greater access for the poorer sections are totally inadequate. The railways will henceforth, only, prioritize the unfinished projects. Thus, its social objectives will remain unaddressed. The Railway Minister’s claim of a reversal of decline with the vision he spelt out hardly inspires any confidence, CPI-M observed.

The traffic growth has declined and expenditures outstrip according to revised estimates. There are 4.6 crores less originating passengers. The passenger earnings were short by Rs. 968 crores proving earlier fare hikes to be counterproductive.

Given this, there should not be any euphoria over passenger fares not being raised. The gross traffic receipts were Rs. 942 crores less as compared to the revised estimates. The railways success in generating internal resources for plan finances also falls short. Most importantly, the operating ratio was 2.7 per cent less, only on account of reduction in the international crude oil prices and not due to the railways internal efficiency improvement.

So far as the future is concerned, the operating ratio outlook is not bright, says CPi-M. Promises on improving safety sounds hollow with low allocation of Rs. 2200 crores for the railway safety fund. The allocation on rolling stocks has also declined.

Finally, the budget has proposed no further freight hikes as Indian freight rates remain highest in the world and as a result the railway minister has also admitted the continuous decline in the share of the railways in freight traffic.

In sum, CPI-M says, this Railway Budget is not going to result in achhe din (good days) for the poor, though the Railway Minister quoted the Indian Prime Minister saying that the railways will be an instrument for `eliminating poverty’.

Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

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Rakesh Raman