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Monday, Feb 28, 2011
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Letters to the Editor
The editorial on the Railway budget (Feb. 26) was aptly titled “populist.” Mamata Banerjee could ill-afford to raise the passenger fare and freight rates as elections in many States, including West Bengal, are in the offing. In her third budget in a row, she has announced many new projects and schemes for her home State at the cost of other States. I am sure people will see through her game plan as many projects she announced last year are yet to be completed.
Ms Banerjee's offer of a special package of two new trains and two projects for the States managing trouble-free run of trains throughout the year is unique, innovative and laudable. The hike in the fare concession given to senior citizens — from 30 per cent to 40 per cent — and the availability of the benefit to women from the time they turn 58, as against the current eligibility of 60 years, will no doubt bring cheers to them. The Minister could have focussed more on the safety aspects.
Finally, there is a valid point in the charge levelled by the Opposition that the Railway budget is more West Bengal-centric.
One would have thought Ms Banerjee was presenting the Railway budget from Kolkata, not New Delhi. As expected, the budget was West Bengal-centric. Many new announcements seem to have been made without discussing or reviewing last year's promises. We should have an efficiency based system in which the number of promises implemented against those made should be evaluated. One hopes that at least some time in future, the Railway Minister will belong to a State other than West Bengal or Bihar, so that other parts of India too can benefit from the Railways.
The Indian Railways, pride of our nation, is administered according to the whims of politicians. Ms Banerjee seems to have forgotten that she is the Railway Minister for India, not West Bengal. The unwise decision of not hiking passenger fares and freight rates will push the Railways to the brink. More concessions mean more revenue loss.
The Sukhi Griha scheme — proposal to build shelters for track side dwellers in Mumbai, Sealdah, Siliguri and Tiruchi — will have a far-reaching negative impact, legitimising encroachment along the railway tracks putting a lid on the future expansion of the railways.
The editorial aptly commented on the nature of the railway budget — populism continues to be the dominant theme. The Railways suffer from three significant issues — the alarming operating ratio of 92 per cent, leaving only eight paise in a rupee as surplus which is very meagre. Second, the track record of the Railways on safety is abysmally poor and the maintenance of coaches atrocious. And the parochialism that continues to dominate the allotment of new projects consolidates the position of the Railway Minister rather than that of the Railways.
The railway budget is like a curate's egg — good in parts. But Ms Banerjee's remark that the financial performance of the Railways is strong and that the Ministry is suffering only on account of the Sixth Pay Commission was uncalled for. The Railways or any other organisation runs only because of the toil and dedicated work of the staff. Pay commissions are periodically appointed and their recommendations accepted with modifications to enable the government servant to meet his needs. No government can implement its schemes without the help/cooperation of its employees.
R. Ramachandra Rao,
No doubt Ms Banerjee is trying to be passenger-friendly, but one wonders whether she is even aware of the difficulties faced by ordinary passengers in getting seats and berths reserved. The moment one logs into the website on the date and time specified for advance registration, a message flashes to say that all seats have been booked. How does it happen? For example, what I have narrated happens very often on the Chennai-Mayiladuthurai sector, forcing passengers to plan a journey by road. The Railways must also think of making a journey more comfortable — there must be adequate legroom between seats.
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