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How The Rail Budget 2014 Showcases Half Baked Visions And Flawed Promises

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By Mayank Jain:

Sadananda Gowda might have taken a lesson or two in psychology and perception biases before arriving to give his maiden Railway Budget speech for the year 2014-2015. He made it a point to thrash UPAs policies and all the previous railway budgets for being ‘mindlessly populist’. The negative tone gave his lacklustre budget the shine which conveniently hid the haunting shallowness of his vision statements.

rail budget

Only yesterday, I wrote about the promising nature of our polity and how we get lost in these promises of a luxurious future that will arrive only after swallowing ‘bitter pills’ for years, and the honourable minister showed no signs of straying from the well beaten path of promising great things that the party has built over the years.

Railway budget might be the best set of vision statements about the ailing railways we have had since years but it is scary because it is not detailed. As a student of business and finance, I could not digest the fact that the minister has resorted to psychological techniques and perception biases. The concrete framework which we could call a ‘budget’ is somewhere lost in the large scale dreams that we have been made to see.

“If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.”

There were statements against populism and reiterations of the fact that the party won’t resort to populism for the long term good of the country. Isn’t this populism masquerading as forthrightness? 58 new trains have been announced when 98 of the 99 projects announced in the last decades are still awaiting completion. Bullet trains have also been hailed as Modi had promised them in his speeches around elections but the cost of a single corridor is estimated to be more than 60,000 crores.

Announcing a 60,000 crore project for these bullet trains that run at 350 kilometres per hour when we still don’t have even average quality working tracks, platforms, stations and other infrastructure, is just like catching the imagination and playing with emotions of people who are left looking for development in everything that the government does or says. Ambitions can’t create Rome, otherwise our Railway Minister would have built two in a day with some time left to spare.

Management Blunders

“Those who fail to plan, plan to fail”, this is an age old adage that still holds true, but the Railway Minister decided to go through the ‘shock and awe’ lane. We have been promised e-ticketing system that will support simultaneous issue of 7,200 tickets, digitisation of railway land, use of bio fuels to power trains, among many other things, but none of it has what every good plan needs the most: an action strategy.

Most of the promises hang in the middle without any deadline or specific allocation made towards them which is diametrically opposite to the idea of a ‘budget’ as we know it in our world, where specific appropriations make things possible and not ‘intentions’.

Half Baked Plans

Something that completely goes off my head was the question of what good can appropriation of 100 crores achieve in a 60,000 crore bullet train corridor that is running without a deadline or an action plan. Why are we throwing good money after bad when we have neither the required infrastructure nor the plans to create it?

The spending on hygiene has also received a record boost of around 40% from its previous appropriations and now clocks at somewhere close to 1,000 crores but there is hardly any specific agenda which informs the taxpayer about the fate of his hard earned money.

Ticket price rises have been justified as the necessary evil but it is unclear where this money is going because the poor definitely don’t want bullet trains by paying more for a ticket of ‘Garib Rath‘. PPP model has been proposed which is clearly not a good idea for something as big, complicated and troubled as the Indian Railways. Either the government should own its sphere or let it go to corporations. Why do we want government and corporates building bridges together while one can build them and other can go keep the stations secure? Why can’t we focus on efficiency of the railways instead of this ostentatious populism while thrashing the same population.

Last Words

With the Railway Budget, the government has made it clear that it is keen on surpassing BJP’s manifesto in the usage of the words like ‘development’, ‘innovation’ and ‘futuristic’. It is evident that we can’t hope for better days anymore since it is the time to swallow ‘bitter pills’ which will work for the future and it is our punishment for letting UPA stay for 10 years.

Narendra Modi has called this hogwash a “futuristic” budget but the sad reality of the politics is that some futures never arrive.

These lines by Shel Silverstein put things in context better than anything else:

“If you are a dreamer, come in,
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer…
If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire
For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.
Come in!
Come in!”

To know more about this story and what I think, follow me on Twitter at @mayank1029

You must be to comment.
  1. Vishnu

    The author is retarded

    1. muft

      care to explain how you’re a ‘genius’ ?

  2. Rajat

    well truely analyzed..
    only andh-bhakts day dreamers can hope for this improvement without any strategy..

  3. Abhi

    One thing I don’t agree with author is where he intends to say that we shouldn’t think of bullet trains when we don’t have basic amenities at the platform and tracks etc. Just because the state we are in doesn’t mean that we can’t think and dream big. Take for example ISRO and our space mission. India was in dire poverty when ISRO and these missions were thought of by people like Vikram Sarabhai. By this author’s yard stick, we shouldn’t have done that as India was not having even basic amenities. But thanks to a few sane minds we had the vision and dream for high end technology and today ISRO is one of the top space organizations.
    For other things also, this author has a biased view. Just because previous governments failed to deliver on their promises doesn’t mean this government will fail too. As for action strategy and planning is considered, not every minute details are revealed in the rail budget, further the Mumbai – Ahmadabad bullet train corridor is already earmarked. Many of the decisions need just an executive nod and we will soon see them in reality. But out-rightly rejecting the promises and hopes is definetly not the way forward and is clearly an indication of an extremely negative mind.

  4. Sahil Goel

    A good analysis, I agree with you on the point of the availability of Funds for new trains and bullet trains.

    On what I don’t agree with you: Firstly, a budget is a budget and not an action plan. It will never give you steps but end points. Secondly, Whole of the India doesn’t have good tracks for bullet train but Mumbai-Ahmadabad route on which the bullet train will initially run, has been improved. Bullet train will be developed slowly.

    What is required at this point is patience and faith of people, lets give them at least a year or two to perform.

    Thank You
    Regards,
    Sahil Goel

  5. Naman

    Mayank thanks for this article, respect your views/opinions on the Rail budget and waiting for some on the Finance budget.

    My viewpoints on the rail budget are as:-

    We know many of the earlier planned trains are yet to see the light of the day, but that is because the vision has changed with every change in the Railway minister and in the last decade there have been many (interim, pint-erim and shite-rim). Special preference has been given to Mumbai-Ahmadabad corridor because it is a commercially important and viable route, also in plan are Delhi-Agra/Chandigarh/Jaipur etc, rather the feasibility studies are being conducted by RITE and Japanese consultancy firms with good background in successful implementation. The whole idea is to upgrade the existing infra to a level where it can manage efficient signalling and increasing the load bearing capacity of the complete stretch from Mumbai to Ahmadabad. Just like in a Road network there are some bottlenecks where maximum possible speed of the train gets as low as 10 KMPH. This in turn is not a huge fault of the railways, just that over the years we had prioritized last mile connectivity over efficient maintenance/upkeep of existing infra (which dates back to 1900s-Railways was introduced by Britishers). Now that a govt has come which will re-prioritize maintenance and passenger security over populist announcement of fair freeze and new trains for specific locations, we must not condemn them outright like this, give them a chance (5 years atleast that we have gone along with congress for the past sixty).

    Things will turn up, for example fast connectivity between Mumbai and Ahmadabad might mean de-congestion of Mumbai as one can daily travel from Ahmadabad. The implementation plan for better hygiene and maintenance of the platforms is already very clear, some sort of PPP and effective monitoring using existing CCTVs on the platform. Much good will follow if the implementation is done with the same zeal as while announcing this budget.

    Regards,
    Naman

  6. Dhirendra Gaur

    This is the first time I read an article on YKA. I loved your writing. Not only content but the level of language used too.

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