Facing its first challenge, the Narendra Modi government will present its first Railway Budget on Tuesday. High-speed trains, world-class stations and safe journeys are likely to be the government’s top priorities.
The high-profile Golden Quadri-lateral Rail Network-linking the four metro cities-might be important highlights of the Budget. Running semi-high-speed trains on select routes might be an item of immediate implementation. Railway minister Sadanand Gowda made waves even before he presented his maiden budget with a 14 percent hike in passenger fares across the country.
However, the government has put the blame on its predecessor UPA government for the rail price hike. “The earlier government made this plan of tackling the losses but they did not implement it. This was even calculated in the earlier budget and consulted with the former PM . Just that they stayed the order. So, now how can they come out and say that this government is doing something wrong,” Gowda questioned.
The government is also facing pressure from allies who are forcing a partial rollback but the freight fare hike of 6.5 percent remains unchanged. According to experts, the first big challenge for the railways is to ensure that a constant increase in freight fares does not take the loads off tracks. “Freights are becoming expensive.
There has to be a balance between freight and passenger fares and get dedicated freight corridor in place soon,” Former Chairman of Railway Board JP Batra said. There is also a collective voice that railways must control staff strength based on activity costs and needs and decentralise managerial control to railway zones and divisions.
Experts also feel that there is a need to allocate budget for adequate asset renewal for safety needs. “There is a need to review the role of railway board, it’s archaic,” former additional member railway board Sumant Chak said. With two major accidents within a month of the new government taking over, safety continues to be a major grey area.
Passenger safety is caught between clash of technology, clash of interests and political lethargy. Systems like anti collision devices are also in a limbo. Railway has spent Rs 50 crores to develop anti-collision devices since 2006. In December 2013, the former railway ministry told Parliament that a new improved software version had been developed by Konkan Railway which was under evaluation.