Finally the railway budget 2012 is here. After a delay of almost a fortnight the budget has been presented. At first glance it looks like a positive attempt at correcting many long pending issues facing the railways. In his budget speech the Railway minister said that his main concern is safety and safety only. And by the look of it seems to be so. Unmanned crossings, unsafe working environments, unhygienic travel conditions and passenger safety issues have been addressed. Instead of making a populist statement the minister could dare to act is in itself a big achievement.
But the big question is, will the inter- and intra- tug of one-upmanship between the political parties allow the minister in his goal. That seems highly unlikely in the events that have unfolded in the last couple of hours. How could any person in all sanity oppose a fare hike which ranges between paltry Rs. 2 to Rs. 40 for ordinary classes are beyond comprehension. If the online responses pouring into several news portal are anything to go by then surely there is a huge disconnect between what the masses want and what the politicians are willing to give. Every person who has travelled in train recently knows how badly the railway needs a makeover. The squalor, filth and poverty visible near any railway tracks can put to shame any claim of India being a global super economy. Inside the trains the bad shape of the amenities can put to doubt if we are a civilized nation at all. Twenty years ago we abrogated manual scavenging but the way the Railways dispose its toilet waste is akin to throwing one’s night soil through the bedroom window. And no civilized society can and should accept it.
We the commoners don’t want too many things from the railways but only few such things that can make our journeys better. And that needs money. When in the last eight to nine years the prices of general commodities have increased 10 fold there is no justification of keeping the fares artificially low as if that would alleviate all the miseries of the poor common man. Instead of killing an institution for the sake of appeasement the government should take care of giving proper facilities and value for money to the patrons of this giant institute.
For the last 10 years the railways are working on Collision avoidance methods but how much they have succeeded is anybody’s guess. Yet the average speed of our trains are not more than 50 kmph. It happens only in India that a train that travels at an average speed of 60kmph is called a Duronto. Duronto in Bengali means crazy. Only we Indians who travel 200 km by road in 5 hours can call a speed of 60 kmph a crazy speed. Then I wonder what will we name if (and ever) we manage to touch a speed of say 100kmph and how about 250?
The opposition today called it a budget without vision but I really wonder if they themselves have any vision. Opposing just for the sake of opposing does no one any good. For a change the budget seems to be a forward looking budget. For the political class IR has always been the milch cow which could be used anyway they liked but there is a limit to it. Sadly the common man has realized this before the politicians did. Former Railway minister Lalu Prasad Yadav claimed to have made a profit of around Rs. 10,000 for the railways but after the initial euphoria died down everybody who mattered realized that not only were his claims inflated but his policies harmed the railways grossly. Overloading, excessive concessions and establishing stations at every village harmed the railways more than it helped anyone. Honourable former minister could not even reap any electoral benefit out of it. Just shows how big a failure it was.
In every aspect this budget looks balanced and forward looking. And we the cattle class mass of India don’t mind paying few rupees more for a batter, comfortable and safer train ride. We hope the politicians, for a change, do what is good for the people instead of what may be good for vote bank politics.