Sunday, March 7, 2010

THE RAILWAY BUDGET 2010-11: AN EXERCISE IN DECEPTION - Subhanil

The hallmark of a populist bourgeois politician is to show concerns for the people, while being completely unconcerned about their plight and undertaking policy detrimental to the people at large. However, the needs of electoral politics demand a façade of pro-people posturing to hide the basic anti-people bourgeois politics. The Railway Budget presented by Ms. Mamata Banerjee is a classic example of this art of deception.

The Railway budget promises the people of the country a plethora of projects including, 1000 KM of new railway track, new trains, new world class stations, adarsh stations, multi-functional complexes, Dedicated Freight Corridor, women commando force for security, new safety measures, multi-level parking facilities, hospitals, colleges, automobile hubs, new wagon factories, axle factories, wheel factories etc etc. The real story behind all these tall announcements only exposes the deceptive politics of Ms. Mamata Banerjee. Let us elaborate.

WHAT HAPPENED TO PROMISES MADE LAST YEAR?

In the last budget too, the Minister had made a plethora of promises and announced various projects. The Minister's speech provides no information at all regarding the status of the projects announced last year. This essentially shows that these projects have not been implemented.

· How many of the last year’s proposed 50 stations have been modernized into 'world class' stations? There is nothing mentioned in her speech but 10 more stations have been added in the list.

· How many adarsh stations have been completed or even the work has started since her announcements last year? Again, no concrete data on implementation status but 94 new stations have been added.

· How many multi-functional facilities have been started all over the country? Only work has been started in some of these complexes but she has added 93 more to the list.

· How many of the last year’s proposed 18 medical colleges and 7 nursing colleges started? None. But that does not deter the Minister from announcing another 552 hospitals and diagnostic centres.

Keeping the people of the country completely dark on the actual status of her promises made last year, she has added another substantial list to the above-mentioned heads. In other words, for our Minister, announcement of a project is more important than actually implementing them on the ground.

Moreover, the Minister is completely silent on various other promises that she made last year.

The silence of the Minister on these proposals is simply because of the fact that these were never implemented. These projects are given below.

· Special coaches and other facilities for physically challenged people.

· On board infotainment services on important long-distance train.

· 1000 MW power plant in Adra was proposed last year.

· Issuing tickets from Post Offices has not materialized. (Minister mentions this in her speech)

· Toilet facilities on EMU/DMU trains for journey time of more than 2 hours

· Modernization of railway printing press and take over of the Basumati press in Kolkata.

· Take over of Burn Standards and Braithwate.

The fact that so many projects only remained in paper in spite of big announcements by the Minister again proves that she is more worried about grabbing headlines for announcing these projects but not implementing them. This is nothing but doing fraud on the people of the country and deceiving them.

While it is clear from the above that a majority of the projects announced last year never
materialized and remained on paper, a lot of the proposals made in this year’s budget is nothing but the old proposals with some cosmetic changes.

Repetition of Last year's proposals with some window-dressing

· Dedicated Freight Corridor: Announced in last budget. Nothing has surfaced so far and this budget only says that an understanding with a Japanese company will be completed soon.

· SMS updates on reservation status of passenger tickets -same as last year.

· Double decker trains for inter-city travel: Proposed last year. Now, only pilot project in Kolkata and Delhi has been announced.

· E-ticket based mobile vans: same as last budget with minor additions of some more places where the van will go.

· No new announcement on safety and security related issues other than what was present in last year's budget, including the proposal for having women RPF commando force.

· The last budget proposed to set up cold storage for perishable products to reduce the loss of farm produce. This year's budget makes the same commitment once again.
· Even after the failure to implement last year’s proposals the announcements made this year are also hollow and have been made only to cover up the deteriorating finances of the Railways.

FINANCIAL POSITION OF INDIAN RAILWAYS

The Railway budget for 2010-11 is an official confirmation that the finances of the Railways have gone haywire. This is obvious from the fact that the Railway’s operating ratio (the ratio of total working expenses to the earnings – a higher ratio implies deterioration), which was 90.5% in 2008-09 has risen to 94.7% in 2009-10. Such a sharp deterioration in just one year reflects the gross mismanagement of Railway affairs by the Minister.

The net revenue has declined sharply from the budget estimate of Rs.8, 121 crore to just about Rs.6, 489 crore. In the budget estimate itself Rs.642 crore had been provided under capital fund, but now nothing is being made available. Moreover, plan investment in Railways also fell short of the budgeted target of 2009-10 by Rs. 497 crore. This only shows that the Minister did not manage to invest according to her own announced plans last year. This year the investment is budgeted to increase by only Rs 1142 crore, which denotes a sharp fall in the real investment by the Railways. While the Railway Minister has made tall claims on laying 1000 kms of new railway lines, it is shocking that the actual plan allocations for gauge conversion, doubling of railway lines and new rolling stock like wagons and carriages have been cut in nominal terms, denoting a squeeze on the public resources for the railways.

SAFETY FUND

One of the biggest casualties of the deteriorating financial condition of the railways has been the safety fund. Last year the country witnessed 120 railway accidents in which many precious lives were lost. The Minister in the most bizarre manner has blamed rail rokos and natural disasters for the accidents. But the fact of the matter is that she is not concerned about the safety of the railway passengers. This is obvious from the fact that the Railway Safety Fund has been cut by Rs 579 crore this year. All the talk about installing cutting edge technology and equipment to tackle the problem of railway accidents falls flat when there has been a massive reduction in the fund allocated for railway safety.

RECRUITMENT IN THE RAILWAYS

The Railway Minister did not even try to address the question of recruitment in Railways apart from announcing some concessions for the deprived sections with regard to examination fees.

According to the statistics provided by her own Ministry, 1.7 lakh posts are lying vacant in the Railways. Any attempt to fulfil these posts would have been greatly beneficial to the people and the youth. But this finds no mention in her speech and policy announcements. This only exposes her complete apathy to the problem of unemployment within the youth and a brand of politics which believes only in hollow sloganeering.

ALL OUT PRIVATIZATION OF THE RAILWAYS

The squeeze in public investment in Railways has not deterred the Railway Minister from announcing a barrage of projects starting from laying 1000 Km of railway lines to hospitals, colleges, museums, new factories, eco parks etc etc. It is also the case that a lot of these projects do not even have the mandatory approval of the Planning Commission, which essentially means that no fund has been allocated for these projects. The Minister in her speech herself mentions this. It is beyond one’s comprehension as to how projects are being announced on the floor of the Parliament without necessary financial backing and approval from the Planning Commission?

So, in the absence of support from public resources, the Railway Minister has gone ahead full throttle on the agenda of privatization of the Railways. Starting from laying new lines, freight and passenger corridors, bottling plants, manufacturing locomotive, wagons and containers, gauge conversion, doubling etc have all been opened up for private investment. This is unprecedented and amounts to opening up the railways for private profiteering which is inimical to our national interests. On the other hand, there are also proposals on the part of the Railway Minister for using railways land for commercial purposes, which in essence means giving over prime railway land for real estate speculation and profiteering.

What Mamata Banerjee has done to the Railways is a classic case of how public sector institutions have been starved of public resources through the mismanagement of the PSU’s and then they have been handed over to the corporate sector in the name of fund crunch or inefficiency or any other logic. Ms. Mamata Banerjee has presided over a thorough deterioration of the financial conditions of the Indian Railways. Instead of checking any further deterioration in the finances, she has opened up the sector for private profiteers. All her pretensions of being pro-people and all her stances against the economic reforms of the Government falls flat on the face of her agenda of privatization for the Railways. She has proved to the people that she is ultimately a neo-liberal politician who will turn no stone unturned to please the corporate sector in the country.

It is important for the progressive and democratic section of the people in India and West Bengal in particular to see through her pretensions and defeat her brand of politics of deception tooth and nail.

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