If Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee’s white paper is to be taken as her “Vision 2020” document, there are no real insights into what she envisages for the Railways. The aim, unfortunately, seems to be to detract from the achievements of the Railways under her predecessor, Lalu Prasad. The white paper, reportedly prepared by a consultant under the supervision of the Railway Board, asserts that the accumulated surplus of Rs.90,000 crore claimed for the period 2004-09 was the result of a change in the accounting system. The real surplus, after allowances are made for the new system and the outgo due to the implementation of the Sixth Pay Commission report, was only Rs.39,500 crore. Strangely, the Railways has decided to continue with the same system of accounting which, the report says, exaggerated the surplus. While Ms Banerjee is known for playing such type of politics, it is a mystery that the ruling coalition should have allowed one of its partners to take a dig at an erstwhile constituent that is still supporting the government.
Whatever the quantum of surplus, there can be no denying that Mr. Lalu Prasad and his team did turn the Railways into an efficient enterprise. It is widely acknowledged that he, while insisting on his priorities, gave the administration enough space to shuffle around and tone up the operational efficiency. The facts speak for themselves. Despite the serious competition from road transport, more revenue was generated through innovative measures, even while keeping the basic passenger fare untouched. Freight tariff was restructured. Loading as well as originating passenger traffic rose significantly during the five years. Ms Banerjee will do well to concentrate on consolidating the gains and finding ways of raising the Rs.14 lakh crore investments the Railways needs, keeping petty politics out of the sound and successful public sector undertaking.