Ever since Suresh Prabhu has taken charge of the Railway Ministry, he has made it clear that he is more concerned with the turnaround in Indian Railways than taking the populist path.
With the aim of clearing the financial and administrative mess in the Railways, Prabhu is all set to present his maiden Railway Budget 2015-16.
Expectations are high from the Railway Minister amidst the latter's firmness to bring in fundamental changes in the Railways.
Rail Connectivity and electrification
Rail connectivity tops the expectations chart of every region. However, in far flung states of the Northeast region, rail connectivity remains an issue even after 67 years of Independence. It is expected that the region will be connected by rail, and efforts are being made in this area at the fastest pace. Furthermore, it is also expected that the government will take initiatives to electrify the existing railway tracks till Guwahati. During the 2008 Budget, the government approved electrification of the Barauni-Guwahati rail route with an estimated expenditure of Rs 505.68 crore. However, nothing concrete in that direction has happened so far.
Other major routes awaiting modernisation and electrification are Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. In Rajasthan, out of a total of 5,854 kilometres only 642 kilometres is electrified, while in Uttar Pradesh, out of a total route of 8,702 kilometres only 2,137 kilometres is, as per figures available till 17 February, 2011.
India`s railway, the world`s fourth-largest, has suffered from years of low investment and populist policies to subsidise fares. This has turned a once-mighty system into a slow and congested network that crimps economic growth. However, in its maiden Budget last year, the government hiked passenger fares by 14.2 percent and freight rates by 6.5 percent -- the steepest rise in 15 years, and a politically controversial move. The fare hike was announced to help fund new wagon purchases, modernise tracks, revamp lines and improve safety. With the international crude prices falling by over 50 percent since June last year, the state-run oil marketing firms had cumulatively reduced diesel prices by Rs.10-11 in six cuts since October, benefitting bulk consumers like the railways, which use diesel to power its locomotive engines. It is expected that the government will not announce any further fuel hikes in its upcoming Budget.
The government in its Budget announcement last year said that it will closely monitor the Dedicated Freight Corridor Project Implementation of Eastern and Western DFCs. It has also kept a target of nearly 1000 kms of civil construction contracts. The 3,300 km long project, which will crisscross various states, shall transform India's economic transport facility. It is expected that the Railway Ministry will come up with a concrete plan to fast pace the DFC connecting Delhi to Mumbai and Ludhiana to Dankuni in West Bengal.
The Cabinet in August last year had approved a proposal to open up Indian railways to foreign investment by allowing 100 percent FDI in areas such as high-speed train systems, suburban corridors and dedicated freight line projects implemented in PPP mode.
However, due to pressures from trade unions, the government said this month that it has no intention to privatise the Railways. The government must find a midway to tackle the crisis arising out of resentment from the trade bodies and at the same time make sure that it is able to infuse funds into the cash-strapped railways.
Security and cleanliness
Adhering to Prime Minister's dream of “Swacch Bharat” it is expected that Railway minister would come up with a concrete plan for cleanliness and maintenance of the sector. The Railway ministry has not done much towards increasing bio-toilets in sufficient numbers of trains to mitigate the problem of direct discharge of human waste on the tracks and platforms. It is expected that in the upcoming Rail Budget, the government will lay roadmap for future course of action in hygiene, cleanliness and sanitation.
A lot also needs to be done over the security issue in the railways. Every year, the government promises measures for taking ample steps to ensure security in the Railways, however, the promises rarely turn into practice. The government must make sure that it fulfils its promise for RPF escorting teams in trains, escorted coaches for ladies, multi-pronged approach to eliminating unmanned level crossings and building boundary walls around stations, among others.