Ritabrata Banerjee’s Speech in Rajya Sabha on Rail Budget

March 14, 2016

Rail is a public transport. Public transport must have public characteristics. Public transport cannot be sustained without budgetary allocation and support. That has been the world wide experience.  Paradigm shift from the fundamental conception of Indian railways being a public transport has taken place in this budget.  Looking at railways as essentially commercial entity is fundamentally wrong. Having hiked the passenger and freight charges several times prior to the budget, it was only natural that further hikes in the budget were not announced. The people of India were hoping that the budget will address the issue of expanding railway connectivity and take substantive measures for improving passenger amenities. On both these counts the budget was very disappointing.

Most importantly, given the alarming rise in rail accidents it was hoped that better measures for ensuring safety standards and financial allocations for enhancing safety measures would be taken up. Unfortunately, the budget does not generate any greater confidence amongst the Indian people for whom the railways constitute the most important link in the country’s connectivity and therefore its unity.

The most worrisome aspect of the budget concerns the financial health of the railways. Last year’s performance has been much below the anticipated earnings by the railways. Both freight and passenger earnings have significantly dropped and the gap between the budgetary estimates and the revised estimates of railway revenue is around a massive Rs. 17,000 crores.

Further, the railways require around Rs. 32,000 crores to fulfil the obligations and recommendations of the 7th Pay Commission. This means that the railways are starting the financial year with a shortfall of nearly Rs. 50,000 crores. This shortfall, the railway minister hopes, will be bridged and surplus funds would be available for improving the railways through a massive dose of public-private partnership and the selling of the assets currently held by the Indian railways.

The PPP model has globally proved to be a failure in improving the railways all across the world. Selling assets is like selling family silver to meet the day to day expenditure. This makes neither economic nor common sense. What has been the experience of FDI and PPP in other infrastructure sectors like airport and seaports? The cost of the consumer has grown manifolds.  

The railway minister praised the railway workers as the mainstay of the Indian Railways. This however appears mere lip service. Most of the services have already been privatized and the remaining few are also to enter the PPP mode. The workers discharging these services do not have any protection and in some cases are not even paid the stipulated minimum wages. This does not augur well for the future health of the Indian Railways.

The CPI(M) has all along demanded that the Indian Railways must maintain its role in providing better services to the people as its foremost objective and not be reduced into a mere accounting exercise balancing its revenues and expenditures. 

Given the fiscal constraints and the overall economic slowdown in the Indian economy under this BJP government this however will not be forthcoming. The consequent increased burdens on the people, the privatization of its assets and the abdication of the responsibility towards its workforce together mount a further attack on the Indian people, who are crying for relief.

Developing infrastructure and filling up of the necessary manpower was a dire necessity but it has been conveniently sidelined 3 lakh vacant posts mainly concerning maintenance and safety standards. Regarding safety rail has failed. Credibility has been zero, Commissions set up but nothing came out no output. By Filling up the posts employment could have been generated. Nothing is done in this regard. Financial efficiency is dependent of freight traffic. Industrial development is also directly proportional. Over the years rail has been lagging behind in competition with the road traffic. Resource mobilisation segments like port connectivity, mines connectivity, power plants connectivity are eyed by the PPP and the FDI at the stewardship of the new government because ensured commercial returns are there. Once this section goes in private hands things will become more untenable. Consolidate and expand needs to be the slogan of the day. Plan expenditure is almost negligible. China’s yearly outlay is 116 billion and ours is 10-12 billion roughly. Freight traffic is 3 times as ours. Rail in china is not in private hands- CHINA RAILWAY CORPORATION , A NATIONAL RAILWAY OPERATOR OF The PRC controls railways. Its under ministry of transport. 

As a Bengali I was elated to hear the Rail Budget speeches of 2009-10. Speeches of the then Rail Minister. So much was there for Bengal. Want to know whats the status. Because am unable to see anything. 2010-11 522 hospitals and diagnostic centres, 50 central schools, 10 residential schools in the style of Nvodaya vidyalayas. 2012 we heard that Rail is in ICU.  For Bengal 13 multispecialty hospitals, 16 factories. What about Shalimar auto hub? Kisan vision jojona at Singur? Metro coach factory at Noapara? Rail coach factory at Kanchrapara. Rail axel factory at njp, Jelingham and Haldia factories. Rail wagon factory at Kulti, Coach factory and power plant at Purulia, Factories at Adra? Want to know the present status. Majority are cattle grazing lucrative pastures.

(Disclaimer: This is an verbatim unceoorected version)