The Railway Budget announced on Thursday by Minister Suresh Prabhu focused on improving passenger experiences like better ticketing facilities, measures for cleaner trains and upgraded stations.
The directions announced in the first full-fledged Rail Budget of the Modi government, would address the passenger concerns about ‘cleanliness, comfort, accessibility, service quality and speed of trains' and fulfill people’s aspirations in the NDA government. The Minister had earlier said that there should be an increase in passenger amenities before increasing the fares. But no major enhancements have been announced in the Budget, that doesnt differ much from the previous one also inviting criticisms for not revealing all the details to the public. The one hour Budget speech was mainly spent discussing measures for a safety and comfortable commutes and no new trains and routes have been announced.
There is no hike in passenger rail fares despite the hike in fuel prices -the most expected part of this year’s Railway Budget. The fares were increased by 14.2 percent and freight rates by 6.5 percent in July last year. The Minister said that measures like PPP and BOT would be taken to improve the basic facilities. Foreign companies are being called on for the purpose. An investment of Rs 8.5 lakh crore would be made in Railways in the next 5 years for improving the basic facilities and to enable renovations of the system. An amount of Rs 92, 186 crore have been allotted for improving the route, the doubling of lines and electrification alone. The outlay for passenger amenities would be increased by 67 percent and SMS alerts would be introduced for train timings. Availability of tickets in five minutes, providing lower berth for pregnant women and elders and building 17, 000 bio toilets and airplane-type vacuum toilets in trains are also in the list. While sanitation would be given priority, the facilities are likely to be available only to higher class passengers. Wagon-making schemes would also be made under private investments and the land allotted for Railway would be handed over to private agencies. The Minister had suggested that the money could be raised from sources like insurance and pension funds.
Railways are one of the significant means of public transport and continue to be a precious national asset. While giving an impression of enhancing the train facilities and ensuring passenger comfort, it is plainly an instance of giving more power and control to the corporate for reaping more benefits with a nod from the Parliament. According to the analysts, no improvements are possible without allowing more trains and coaches. For Kerala, the Railway Budget brings no major changes to meet the state’s long pending demands. The state government termed it as ‘disappointing’ and ‘hopeless’ saying that it would ‘check the pace of Indian Railway’. Despite the Chief Minister and the leader of Opposition meeting the Rail Minister directly and expressing the concerns, the state didn’t receive enough funds for carrying out electrification and signaling and also doubling of lines particularly along the Ernakulam-Kottayam-Kayamkulam line. While only limited funds have been allotted for the electrification process of Shornur-Mangalore route, the budget brings total disappointment to the Malabar area. Whether the Minister’s promises would be implemented practicably, is yet to be seen.