The Railway budget for 2010-11 does not exactly outline the kind of blueprint that the Railways were intended to put in place for achieving the goals set in the Vision 2020 document released in December.
Far from rolling out the vision she held out, Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee remained nebulous in her budget proposals by stressing that she intended to create a separate structure for devising a business model to rope in private enterprise. She also promised to set up a task force to clear proposals for investments within 100 days.
All that she said was that the business model would be formulated in consultation with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, without setting any time frame in this regard.
She acknowledged the “typical negative approach” of the system that caused “administrative and procedural delays” that discouraged prospective investors. But for committing herself to rectifying the situation, Ms. Banerjee announced no changes in procedures despite committing to do so soon after assuming office last year.
She stressed on discussing with the Prime Minister, the Finance Ministry and the Planning Commission for early clearance of projects.
Given the tight financial position the Railways have landed in and in the absence of any support from the Centre, most of the projects she announced are to be set up either as a joint venture or in the PPP (public-private partnership) mode. But it was not clear how these will fructify in the days to come.
Notwithstanding her repeated stress on the security of travel, Ms. Banerjee had little to say about how she intended to cut down on accidents that had brought the Railways a bad name in recent times. Her efforts to seek financial support from the Centre had apparently failed.
Ms. Banerjee said she was prepared to shoulder social responsibilities by taking up socially desirable projects and not being guided by considerations of economic viability alone. But her action was limited to announcing survey works for 114 lines, some of which have been pending a while and have no approval from the Planning Commission. Ms. Banerjee said clearance would be sought in due course of time.