By Anand Sinha:
“My intention is not to create a ‘hungamma’. I intend to focus on the health of the Railways.”
In a railway budget which could be the last one before the 2014 general elections, the Union Railway Minster of India, Mr. Pawan Kumar Bansal, has put out all his best efforts not only in his promises but also in his words. However, if these efforts are just to please the voters or is he genuinely concerned for the betterment of the railways and its services, only time can tell.
The commuters who are the regular users of the railway services have demands that are always promised but most often never fulfilled. Security at the stations and trains is a major concern midst the rising crime these days. The safety of the women commuters traveling alone is a major issue this year after the Delhi gang-rape case. There are requests to deploy sincere security personals, especially women. The cleanliness and hygiene of the railway stations and the toilets in trains is also a major problem which needs to be addressed. The catering service of the railways is one of the biggest quality related issues which has been getting over-flowing complaints from the customers over the years.
However, Mr. Bansal seemed to be still in the awe of previous railway ministers who only addressed the ‘popular demands’. Well, he had to be and he was right. Nobody wants to fall into the league of Mr. Dinesh Trivedi just for the sake of uplifting the railway status. He has, however, pointed to the hike in passenger fares every 6 months for the next 10 years. Though the economy class travelers have been spared, the travelers in reserved bogies and those in superfast trains will have to burn their pockets a little more. A 5% increase in freight fare has also been announced.
For security, he has announced that a Corporate Security Plan will be prepared for 10 years (2014-24). 10700 unmanned crossings are to be reworked for safety considerations and no new such crossings will be made.
Mr. Bansal announced 107 new trains and construction of 500 km new railway lines, wi-fi facility in some trains and a better railway website. He has also announced appointment of 1.52 lacks of people of who 47000 will be filled up by financially weaker section and the physically disabled section of the society. At Secunderabad, an Indian Railway Institute for Financial Management would be set up for training of the railway officers. A wonderful announcement by him was the establishment of Railway Energy Management Company for the benefit of solar and wind energy.
The Railway Budget of 2013-14 is exactly what a budget before the election was expected to be like. It has its certain elements of lure and tempt but the smart public which has become used to this routine knows the ‘reality of implementations’ where only their pockets will be dug deep but the quality of the railway services, especially the cleanliness of toilets and the hygienic value of food, is in all likeliness not going to improve.