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Railway Budget 2015-’16 pitches for Foreign Technology, Private Funding

Railway Budget for 2015-1016 presented by Union Minister for Railways, Suresh Prabhu, is short of any idea of how to address the woes faced by Indian Railways. He highlighted minor details while obfuscating the major aspects of the problems faced by the railways. He has prescribed a panacea of mobilization of funds through PPP mode, joint ventures, multilateral financial institutions and even pension funds. The Railway Minister even sought to dig into MPLAD funds and state budgets. With low budgetary support for plan expenditure all the plans announced by him sound hollow and only an act of playing to the gallery. Imitating Modi’s vacuous style by coining 4 goals, 5 drivers and 11 thrust areas, the Minister was woefully short of details of how to achieve them. In an attempt to mislead he compared his figures of plan expenditure with last year, which was a year of plan holiday.
Railway Budget reflects deep economic crisis plaguing Indian economy in meagre allocations despite crying need for improvement in passenger service by Indian railways. While lopsided emphasis has been placed on some select routes, the plight of passengers has been increasing on major passenger routes. Lack of adequate coaches force overcrowding to the physical extreme. There has been little increase in railway connectivity with only 20% of the routes added over the last 67 years since 1947. The Union Minister has not announced any new train or increase in frequency of existing trains despite severe passenger load on a number of routes which shows utter disregard for the concerns of common people. The expenditure on passenger comfort and safety is minimal while all the services like catering including base kitchens, modernization of stations, dedicated freight corridors etc. are being privatized. Modi Govt. has outsourced all plans of development including that of railways to private players.
Union Minister has not announced any increase in passenger fares to avoid public anger. However, over 6000 crore increase in freight charges has been affected in the name of slab adjustment. The increase affected iron ore and steel (0.8%), 6.3% increase in coal movement and an increase in freight rates for grains and pulses by 10%. This is bound to result in increase in prices of essential commodities. Modi Govt. had also affected sharpest ever increase in passenger fares and freight charges last year. This had resulted in lowering passenger traffic and decrease in railways’ share in freight transportation. While crude prices have fallen steeply in the world market, this fall has not been transferred by Modi Govt. to the people. Govt. cited increase in these prices for affecting increase in fares and freight charges but fares have not been reduced despite sharp fall in their prices. Moreover, Railway Minister has not made any commitment not to further increase fares or freight charges during the year, a practice which has become a norm over the years.
Union Minister has announced speed enhancement on certain routes but with low investment on new tracks, track maintenance and repairs, this would only be either only an announcement or invitation to increased accidents. Railway Minister’s announcement of increasing ‘axel load’ i.e. load per carriage, is also a recipe for increasing load on already poorly maintained tracks and smacks of mentality of short term results while increasing long term liability.
Railway Budget for 2015-’16 shows utter contempt of Modi Govt. towards the problems faced by the people. It is not the bankruptcy of railways but bankruptcy of Modi Govt. who only parrots private funding as panacea for all ills. Technology from abroad and funds from corporate may have propelled Modi to power but cannot propel the growth engine of the country nor can address problems of Indian people.
Central Committee,
CPI(ML)-New Democracy
February 26, 2015

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