Railway passenger fares were hiked only recently. It is, therefore, no surprise that they were untouched by Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal in his budget. But the hike on freight tariff will push the prices of essential items higher and add to further inflation.
While passenger fares target only individuals, a freight tariff hike will affect all those struggling to run their families on a shoe-string budget. Despite periodical increases in fares, efficiency in the Railways has declined, inviting all-round criticism.
Mr. Bansal has tried to maintain a balance between populist measures like opening new factories in Congress held constituencies and fiscal prudence like raising freight tariff. But the question is: how much of the budget proposals have been implemented in all these years? We are still far away from providing even the basic amenities on trains. The consumer, I am sure, is ready to pay more provided he or she gets adequate facilities.
That basic passenger amenities have been neglected in the Railways is well known. But the budget has taken into consideration passenger safety to some extent by introducing new ideas. Train protection warning system in automatic signalling systems is an innovative idea. The 10 per cent reservation for women in RPF to strengthen the security of women passengers is good news too. The government should put the ideas into practice so that the common man does not lose confidence in the political system.
The foremost priority should be clean toilets on trains and in railway stations. In long-distance trains, there is acute water scarcity. The “mug” in the toilet is tied to a chain of insufficient length, presumably to safeguard it, and one has to manoeuvre a lot to handle it on a speeding train. This should be replaced with user-friendly “health faucets.” People will not grudge paying a little more if their basic needs are attended to.
I don’t know whether Mr. Bansal met everyone’s expectations. But one thing is certain — the political class makes a fool of all of us. Every time a budget or a proposal is presented, the opposition criticises the government but never comes up with alternatives. All UPA rivals fired shots once the session was over but never said what could have been done. Criticism should not be for the sake of criticism.
Deepjot Singh Thukral,
Overall, the railway budget is a decent one, on the ‘right track.’ It emphasises the much needed financial sustainability. The additional revenue should be used to remove impediments to modernisation.