Railway Budget 2011: Good Politics, Bad Economics

Posted on February 28, 2011 in Politics


By Srishti Chauhan:

When Rail Minister Mamataa Banerjee announced the rail budget for the year of 2011, hardly anyone was amazed. It was banal- to say the least. Every person had expected her to prioritize West Bengal in each possible comportment. More trains, greater frequency of existing trains, concessions and what-not- the lady in question went all out to give all she could to the state to which she belonged.

However much one resists, it does create a sense of alienation when the rail ministers announce budget as if they are announcing budget for a particular state and not the country as a whole. The idea of being an Indian first and belonging to a state after that eludes the Indian politicians. Concentrating solely on the people of her state, the lady is hell-bent on pleasing them. What about the states of Bihar? Or Kashmir? Or maybe Haryana? Do these areas not need connectivity? Should they not be given, if not more, equal importance?

The states of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh can be deemed as amongst the industrial capitals of India. With the extensive amounts of coal mines, mines for various minerals like Mica and gold mines, do these areas not need better connectivity to enable them to flourish? Having such extensive potential, should the government not concentrate on developing these Maoist affected regions of the country? Better goods train services with greater addition of security would enhance the echelon of these states. Not only would this lead to greater FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) into the country, but also led to more investment from the domestic counterparts who suffer from greater costs of transportation at the moment.

Moreover, instead of developing railways to become a profit earning business which supports government expenditure, the railways has always been considered as a service which shall cost the government crores. The total overheads that the administration encounters in providing the service can be greatly reduced by increasing the efficacy of the present system. It is no secret that huge amounts of railway resources go waste. An excellent example of this is that many a times people traveling in trains get off taking their berths, the electric bulbs and even the pillows and sheets with themselves. Security personnel in each coach would not only give employment to the vast number of jobless but also trim down the loss of railway resources. The funds for this can be extracted by increasing fares at the right places. By right places one can consider increasing fares for luxury trains like ‘Palace on wheels’ and using this revenue to fund the expenses for general railways.

When the former railway minister Lalu Prasad Yadav turned railways into a profit making business without increasing the fares, people were finding it hard to believe. Post the end of his tenure, this victory was touted as being notional. It is said that he had increased fares for services like Tatkal tickets. The question that arises here is- was he wrong in doing so? Is it necessary for the government to always function as a body that borrows to provide?

The tactic very commonly used by all ministers is wooing the ‘aam aadmi’. This is a classic example of good politics being bad economics. One thing that has to be kept in mind is that with growth comes inflation and with inflation comes a rise in price of all commodities. How long will a person continue to avail the same services at the same price when the level of inflation is nearly 5% per annum?

Should the government rethink its strategy and allow the economic advisors to the Prime Minister to approve the railway budget? Economists, probably for the lack of incentive to please the public for the want of votes, would offer healthier solutions to provide better facility with condensed costs. What is suggested is merely a revision in the manner that the railway budget is prepared. Taking away from politicians the right to squander public money to please the people of their state is a crucial question.

The idea should not be to make policies to somehow make do with the existing archaic structure that the railways possess. It should instead be directed towards promoting modernization and innovation to build more fuel efficient and safer trains. Without moving with the times, there are few arrangements that can be profitable. Making use of the dynamicity of science and scientists in India, railways can be given a complete make-over.

All that can be said is that what India awaits are not big bangs that transform the very face of the country. What it needs is a walk back to the basics to improve the attitude with which the country functions. Engraving in minds of the citizens a quality of oneness combined with the need to produce efficient output at all levels is not only vital but a concept fundamental to the functioning of any economy.

The writer is a Correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz.

Image courtesy: http://protonwebs.com/news/trains-announced-rail-budget-2011-list/