THE BUZZ WORDS BEFORE THE RAIL BUDGET PRESENTATION

Railway’s financial health: Indian Railways is in dire financial straits. It barely earns to sustain itself when it needs huge funds to modernize its ailing and ageing infrastructure. The high operational ratio, with expenditure being the 90% of the earning, will be discussed with deliberations on ‘how the new Rail Minister will approach the problem’?

Tariff hike: Fares would be hiked or not? Will the freight tariff come down? Will the passenger fare go up? Will the subsidized segments of train fares see rationalization?

Cleanliness: With ‘Clean India’ campaign being one of the cornerstones of Narendra Modi’s policymaking, the Rail Budget is expected to focus heavily on revamping the image of Indian Railways, a limping behemoth where even the A-class stations have questionable cleanliness record or where the catering of even the A-class trains like Rajdhani or Shatabdi cannot be relied on.

Clean energy/Alternative energy: Extending the cleanliness campaign, another big emphasis of the Modi government is to increase the share of clean/green energy in India’s overall energy consumption to the global norms. Indian Railways being a major energy consuming outfit, the Rail Budget is expected to lay down vision on the same.

Water conservation: Open taps or leaking pipelines are a common feature of all stations. Also, huge amount of water is used in cleaning trains and stations and much of it is wasted. But there are no specific guidelines water usage. Water recycling is still not practiced by most of its wings. The budget is expected to come with plans for the same.

High speed corridors: The Rail Budget is expected to and should focus on the high speed corridors, preferably on introducing semi high-speed trains and increasing speed of the existing ones. India doesn’t need a Bullet Train corridor now. Burdening its economy with huge-investment white elephants like Bullet Train projects, the one between Mumbai and Ahmedabad is expected to cost Rs. 60,000 crore, should be avoided. And we can expect this from the pragmatic professional in Suresh Prabhu, the Rail Minister.

Freight v passenger tariff trade off: What Indian Railways earns through freight is used to absorb the loss made by its passenger segment – the story of cross subsidy. It stands now at Rs. 24,000 crore. Indian freight tariff is among the highest in the world while its passenger tariff for suburban and sleeper is among the lowest. It is sort of a double whammy. The cross subsidy is eating into Indian Railway’s financial health and the high freight subsidy is making it lose market share to the road transport operators. Balancing these is a tough task, given the sensitivity of electoral compulsions. It would be interesting to see how Mr. Prabhu reflects on the same.

Customer satisfaction: It is always the buzz word, improving on services and introducing amenities. Cleanliness, better booking options, cooking hygiene, cuisine quality, better options on trains, efficient information broadcasts, wi-fi expansion and so on. The fare dynamics is an important part of it. If the fares are increased, it will be to arrange the funds for better amenities. It the fare are not reduced, it will again be to meet the fund requirement to provide a better customer experience. And if the fare are reduced, what else can be said, it is always the most satisfying aspect for most of the customers.

Collaborations: Need to infused fund in Indian Railways and as the government cannot meet the requirement on its own, there should be collaborations on the card – within India, from abroad. Privatization is certainly a sensitive issue but collaborations with external agencies on PPP model can be practiced. Also, the state governments can be made partners in projects falling in their region.

Make in India: Make In India is prime minister Narendra Modi’s flagship manufacturing initiative for India, intending to make India a production hub. But given the poor financial condition of Indian Railways, it should not be expected that the Rail Budget would come with new projects to produce its requirements in the country that it is currently importing.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey–https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/

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