|How did Lalu do this?
Perhaps this is the question might well be on everybody’s lips amidst heaps of praises being showered on Lalu Yadav for his exemplary performance as the Railway Minister. And for the five consecutive years! The Railway Budget 2008-09 too rides on Lalu’s chrismatic rise as the presenter of people’s friendly budget. Amidst bedlam and humour in the Parliament, Lalu read out the raiwlway budget for the current financial year with some healthy measures for the people, staff, and for the railway itself.
But why do we still feel flabbergasted amidst praise?
For a man, who has been facing criminal charges for his misdeeds in Fodder Scam worth Rs 950 crore, has earned Rs 25,000 crore is no less than gagantuan accomplishment so far the performance of Indian ministers or ministries are concerned. After his second budget, Lalu started getting calls from institutions like IIM, Ahmedabad for sharing his kills in making Indian Railway as profit making venture. Many, including the BJP and others may see it as sop to the people in view of the coming elections next year. The may be not be absolutely wrong, but they should not forget to applaud the elements of pragmatism, people welfare, modernisation and development plans contained in this budget.
Is Lalu the most successful Railway Minister?
So far his wife is concerned, he is. But that can be marital love. However, the citizens can look at the performance, which includeds: first, double digit growth in traffic earnings maintained in first nine months of this year alone; second, 14 per cent growth in passenger earnings; third, 14 percent in expected growth in goods earnings; fourth, 16 per cent increase in gross traffic revenues compared to 2007-08 budget; fifth, 21 per cent (all time high) Return on Capital; sixth, Net Revenue expected at Rs. 18,416 crore and surplus after payment of dividend expected at Rs.13,534 crore.
What is the visible change for passengers?
Against the usual trend of fare hike that we have had experienced every year or expected at least, Lalu has been able to either cut down passengers fare or maintained status quo during his tenure. This budget has second class fares cut by 5 per cent beyond 50 km, AC-III fares to be reduced by 3 per cent, AC-II by 4 per cent, AC-I by 7 per cent. In addition, 10 new Garib Raths, 53 pairs of new trains, extension of trains 16 pairs, increase in frequency of 11 pairs of trains, 300 additional services in Mumbai suburban, concession to senior citizen enhanced to 50 per cent from existing 30 per cent, free monthly seasonal ticket to girl students up to graduation level in place of 12th standard and for boys up to 12th standard in place of 10th standard etc., are some of the visible relief measures.
To strengthen railway safety and security, Lalu provides multi-pronged scheme through various automatic mechanisms like anti-collision device, on-line monitoring of rolling stock through acoustic bearing detectors and wheel impact load detector, end of train telemetre (EOTT) device, which is an advanced telemetric system that continuously monitor train brake system integrity, speed and position, digital ultrasonic flaw detecting machine, etc. No doubt, rail accidents have reduced remarkably despite substantial increase in gross traffic volumes. Now this budget speaks of fire resistant material to be used in coaches along with unmanned level crossings at busy sections to be manned on a fast track basis. Above all, integrated security plan is drawn up through installation of CCTVs, metal detectors etc.
Apart from social welfare steps like filling up ofbacklog vacancies for SCs/STs in special campaign launched since 2004 and Mother-Child Health Express, to be run on a pilot basis at concessional fares in collaboration with Rajiv Gandhi Foundation for providing medical facilities to mother and child, staff welfare is given additional focus, e.g. per capita contribution to Staff Benefit Fund to be increased by 10 times from Rs.35 to Rs.350 for 2008-09.
Is Lalu a visionary?
In the Vision 2025 document, Lalu aims at setting the roadmap for coming 17 years, which includes customer-centric and market-responsive strategic initiatives. This is supplemented with Information Technology Vision 2012 that aims at radical changes in IT applications on a common platform with focus on improvement in operational efficiency, transparency in working and better services to the customers. Public-Private Partnership (PPP) schemes to be launched for attracting an investment of Rs.1,00,000 crore over the next five years for developing world class stations, rolling stock ad other logistics. Other measures include commercial use of Railway land by Rail Land Development Authority to give a boost to Railway Revenues.
Vision 2025 would certainly help in increasing railway capacity and managing the huge traffic that the growth of the Indian economy will generate in coming years.
What about special treatment to Bihar?
Yes, Lalu has not been accused of giving extra care to his home state without reason. In his fifth consecutive and the UPA Government’s last Railway Budget, Lalu announced 10 new lines and out of the 20 new line projects 11 were for Bihar, a staggering 55 per cent! And out of the 53 new trains, 10 are allocated to Bihar. In fact, topped the list of new train services (19) with Gaya received two trains, extension of services (4) and increase in the frequency of trains (5). Only Uttar Pradesh matched Bihar’s tally of 28 services while Maharashtra got 24 services. Two out of the 10 new Garib Raths announced would also run through Bihar. But then, Mumbai too got special treatment
Interestingly, despite being the cynosure of most past Railway ministers, Bihar, has 23 new line projects worth Rs 7,260 crore pending, with the oldest project dating back to 1995-96. In addition, Bihar will have a 1000 MW thermal power plant to be set up at Nabinagar District of Auragabad, Bihar. This is a joint venture of Indian Rail Bijli Company Ltd. with NTPC. A new wagon re-construction unit to be set up at Garkha in Chapra District and modernisation and development of a workshop at Jamalpur, in addition to the othre three at Lilluah, Perambur and Ajmer.
India Inc applauded Railway Minister Lalu Prasad for presenting a "pragmatic" Budget, and said the proposals would help strengthen and expand traffic handling capacity of the institution. FICCI President termed it as “good and strong anti-inflationary measure” and hailed it an attempt to address the transport requirement of an expanding Indian economy. ASSOCHAM President Venugopal Dhoot classed the railway budget "pragmatic, progressive and futuristic".
From every-year fare hike exercise to people’s friendly budget with huge profit in the kitty, Indian Railways is not far away in becoming one of the best world-class institutions. Lalu’s rustic behaviour may well hide his enterprising skills, it does not conceal his intentions. This is a budget that will create win-win situation for all.