The Politics Behind the Rail Budget

Posted on March 22, 2012 in Politics

By Shivangi Singh:

The khadi-clad man spoke, as an entire nation of over a million watched in shock. The fares of the common man’s favourite means of transportation were up for good. March 12, 2012 had already promised to be dramatic with the announcement of the Indian Rail Budget for the year 2012-2013 due, but it was the immediate politics that followed that made it so eventful. Hardly would Dinesh Trivedi have suspected that his first-ever budget as the Railway Minister would lead to his expulsion from the party that he served for over ten years. In a bid to introduce many new high speed trains, the fares were hiked by a big margin for all the classes. When this didn’t go down well with the public, the ex-Railway Minister, the All India Trinamool Congress Chief (TMC) and the present West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee put her foot down and expressed her deep disappointment with the Rail Budget. Consequently, Dinesh Trivedi was removed from the post.

The Budget that started with a pessimistic remark by the Railway Minister had little in store to cheer up the masses. In the beginning itself, Dinesh Trivedi made it clear when he said, “Indian Railway is going through a difficult financial phase”. Predictably, the public interpreted the Rail Budget as just another way for the greedy politicians to make quick bucks and by large volumes. There has been an increment in the Express train fares by 3 paisa/km and an overall rise by Rs.12 on travelling for more than 300km. The fares have been hiked by at least 10 paisa for all classes. Not a single train, route or class has been left out of the hike bracket.

However, not the entire picture is gloomy. New Express Trains have been introduced; Guru Parikrama train covering Amritsar, Patna and Nanded being one amongst them. Great news for the unemployed youth of the nation comes in the form of 1, 00,000 new recruitments announced in the railways. Wait-listed passengers have something to rejoice for as they will now be getting alternate train reservations. The construction of new stations and bio-toilets has also been announced. In accord with Trivedi’s statement that there’s a need for the Indian railway to grow at 10% annually, this year’s annual budget has been put at the highest ever Rs.60, 100 crores. With the pricey budget, Trivedi sent out a clear message: all the improvements in the quality of service and the Indian railway experience come at a cost — a thought that didn’t resonate with Mamata Banerjee’s.

Within hours of the announcement of the hefty-on-pocket Rail Budget, TMC publicly criticized it, issuing press statements like: “Sorry, Can’t agree with hike in fares”, and after several MPs questioned the budget involving a lot of public frenzy, Trivedi clarified that Mamata wasn’t aware about the hike in rail prices, and that he was the one fully responsible for it. The very next day, Mamata Banerjee told the press that they won’t allow train fares to increase. The party insiders also told media that Trivedi has been asked to resign. However, it was only after riding on Mamata’s nerves for six days that the resignation was finally handed over by Trivedi, after issuing the press statement that the Party and the Indian railway are bigger than an individual. Not all were happy with his step-down, though. Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh stepped in soon enough. PM remarked that he regretted losing Trivedi, and that attempts can be made to rollback the hike in fares. It was too late, though, as Mamata and TMC had already made up their minds. Mamata stood firm on her decision of replacing Trivedi with Mukul Roy. All hailed to the Queen, and Mukul Roy was sworn in as the new railway minister on March 20, 2012.

While the politics surrounding the Rail Budget was spicy enough to be directly incorporated as a pot-boiler script, it raises some serious questions about the conduct of high officials and powerful position holders in the nation. The Indian ministers abuse their powers in a big way. One day they issue a statement declaring some person in the party as their favourite, and the very next day they call a press meet to clarify the same. Being the head of TMC and the ex- Railway Minister, is it really possible that the budget for 2012-2013 wasn’t discussed with Mamata Banerjee prior to its announcement? That the Indian ministers love to dominate and exercise their power in every way possible is not a secret. Does “didi” really feel that she can fool an entire nation by wearing this mask of innocence?  Does pulling out a minister solve all the problems, or does it solve any problem with the Rail Budget at all — and is it even fair to the minister? Will we ever find the answers to these questions or will the next government continue the same regime? The nation wonders…