Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Monday, Mar 07, 2005
Rail budget: Whizzing past real issues
A sort of milestone is the proposal to simplify the goods tariff, reducing the size from over five hundred pages containing over 4,000 commodities to a few pages with 80 groups of commodities.
Many big things have thus been targeted for improvement and investments. Yet, several small things too could have found a place.
Consider the IT revolution in the railways. A few months ago, I was thrilled that I could make reservations via the Internet and order my ticket. As I went from one step to another, it was all smooth sailing. I gave my preference for a lower berth and was ready to pay using my credit card. The payment included the ticket price, reservation and courier charges (for getting the ticket) as well as the service fee to the bank that has a tie-up with the Railways to process credit card payments.
After paying, I got the information on my booking I was given a side upper berth! I went through the cancellation routine and I ended up with a loss of Rs 183.24. A simple question "Sorry, no lower berth available, do you wish to proceed?" would have helped immensely and saved me money.
Since the Railway Minister is very passenger-friendly, he could have also thought about reforming the procedure to book AC First Class berths on some trains. One gets the ticket with `confirmed' berth, without a berth allotment.
If a VIP is travelling with an entourage of lower-berth enthusiasts, even a person of over 60 would be required to climb somehow to the allotted upper berth. Of course, not many VIPs travel by train these days, since most go by air. Just have berth allocation on a first-come, first-served basis and that would prove that we are a dignified and civilised lot.
Every Railway Minister, in almost every Budget, has been adding new trains. This time there are 46 of them, while 27 have been extended and the frequency of 10 has been increased.
But what about on-time performance of trains? It does not seem to matter anymore. For instance, the pride of Andhra Pradesh, the Godavari Express that runs between Hyderabad and Visakhapatnam, often arrives late at the latter destination worse, it starts crawling painfully slowly when the destination is just a few kilometres away. The notorious outer signal takes the blame most of the time. There is little or no mention of the need to save time and maintain punctuality in the Minister's 142-paragraph speech.
The opening paragraph of the budget speech by the Railway Minister makes great economic sense: that the Tenth Plan target of 8 per cent growth requires "significant investment in infrastructure, of which the railways are an important and integral part".
What is on offer in the budget? There are new lines being laid and proposed surveys for new lines; there are gauge conversion projects being implemented and surveys for gauge conversion; and there is on-going doubling of lines and some surveys for doubling of lines. If we wish to avoid the traffic jams on the tracks, we need to go on a war footing and quadruple the tracks, four-laning them like we are doing the highways. It is not too late and the Minister can still work on it.
Upfront, in paragraph 3 of his speech, the Minister has taken pot-shots at intellectuals (as if there are none in Government) and taken credit for the 7.67 per cent growth in freight higher than the 6.9 per cent growth of the economy. Should one not consider freight growth in comparison to the 8.4 per cent industry growth?
(The author is Professor Emeritus, GITAM Institute of Foreign Trade, Visakhapatnam. Feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org)
Stories in this Section
The Hindu Group: Home | About Us | Copyright | Archives | Contacts | Subscription
Group Sites: The Hindu | Business Line | The Sportstar | Frontline | The Hindu eBooks | The Hindu Images | Home |
Copyright © 2005, The
Hindu Business Line. Republication or redissemination of the contents of
this screen are expressly prohibited without the written consent of
The Hindu Business Line