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.
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 thanÂ 60,000 crores.
Announcing a 60,000 crore project forÂ 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.
“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 otherÂ 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?Â Why can’t we focus on efficiency of the railways instead of this ostentatious populism while thrashing the same population.
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.
To know more about this story and what I think, follow me on Twitter at @mayank1029