THERE HAS NOT been an increase in the prices of tickets. However, one needs to take into account the increase in prices effected before the Budget. Also, there have been sizable hikes in reservation and tatkal charges. Also for a number of years there were no fare hikes.
The railway needs more capital to boost technology in trains and to enhance safety. However, considering that this is an election budget, one can understand such compromises had to be made.
The Budget mentions that the operating ratio is likely to reduce to 87.8 per cent in 2013-14 from 88.8 per cent in the previous year. The ratio was as high as 94.9 per cent two years ago. The lower the ratio, the better it is for generating surpluses. In 2013-14, the railway surplus is expected to increase to Rs 13,147 crore. Considering that the last year’s budget set a target of 74.8 per cent for the 12th five-year plan, this decrease seems marginal. Expenditure is expected to increase by 13 per cent mainly due to increase in fuel prices.
Though train accidents have reduced to 92 last year compared to 325 a decade ago, it is still a significant number. The Budget proposes two major measures: “Introduce a Train Protection Warning System on Automatic Signaling Systems” and the second is on the Corporate Safety Plan for the next ten years. However, there is no reference to any policy framework under these plans. On the same day as the Budget was presented, a train mishap happened!
The Budget mentions a PPP model for the railways. Besides the Delhi to Kolkata corridor, very few sectors have had PPP partnerships. There is a plan to do the same over the Mumbai-Delhi corridor. But allotment of just Rs 1000 crore on PPP is too marginal for a country, which has so many transportation needs.
PPP brings the efficiency of the private sector into the vastness and physical resources of the public sector. This should be encouraged.
There have not been any of the major reform measures that the Railways so badly needs. Congress party
got the railway portfolio after long; but for the approaching elections, a bolder attempt could perhaps have been made in strengthening railway finances.