Running late

Rail budget missed the opportunity to lay out an agenda for the future.

Written by Nitish Kumar | Updated: February 27, 2015 10:02 am
The roadmap of investments and infrastructure for the railways must be futuristic. India is a young nation where people are constantly on the move for education, employment and other purposes. The roadmap of investments and infrastructure for the railways must be futuristic. India is a young nation where people are constantly on the move for education, employment and other purposes.

Suresh Prabhu , the railway minister of India, is a good man who has been my colleague in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee cabinet. I congratulate him on presenting his maiden railway budget. The presentation of this year’s rail budget saw a marked departure from the past. The budget speech did not inform Parliament about last year’s financial performance in detail. In addition, there was no mention of a concrete action plan, time-bound priorities or targets. The most important objective for the Indian Railways today is to break away from the incremental story of the past and recognise the agenda of the future. The rail budget missed an ideal opportunity to lay out the agenda for the future in a concrete manner. Instead, it was a statement of lofty intent.

I say this from personal experience. While presenting the rail budget for 2001-02, I had stated that the railways “needs to develop a market-oriented and customer-friendly outlook”. The focus was to make the Indian Railways people-friendly through better management, safety standards, upkeep, innovations and response rate. A special railways safety fund of Rs 17,000 crore was created. This fund played a major role in upgrading and improving structures such as overhead bridges, thereby significantly raising safety levels. In 2002, the Indian Railways began producing Rail Neer to meet the need for clean drinking water.

Freight rates and passenger fares were rationalised. The catering system was transferred to the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation and transformed. For the first time, a policy to involve the private sector to increase the efficiency of the freight system was adopted. The year 2002 was dedicated to the rail traveller and declared the “passenger amenities year”, while 2003 was the “customer satisfaction year”. Innovative and customer-friendly measures to improve the ticketing system were incorporated in the next year’s rail budget. During my time as rail minister, an Anti Collision Device-based system was also introduced to enhance safety. Since 2001, the Indian Railways has shown a remarkable turnaround, without raising passenger fares, by improving the operating ratio. So more than positive intent, a well-defined action plan is necessary. This is where the rail budget for 2015-16 does not show adequate promise.

It depends far too much on debt from multilateral and bilateral agencies and the participation of private players. In the past, these attempts have not proved to be scalable. Investors often prefer developed states over poor ones. So, a plan that banks on outside lenders and investors could tilt the scale against poor and backward states, where investors do not have exposure. Further, the model of partnerships with the states is also not clear and rests on unsubstantiated assumptions. One such assumption is that the states have gained significant resources from the 14th Finance Commission award. I can state with much disappointment that Bihar, for one, might get less funds than before. When I was rail minister, we had developed and successfully implemented a participatory model under which the Indian Railways made partial contribution to specific projects proposed by the states, in accordance with their sectoral priority. This led to the successful completion of several projects across the country.

The Indian Railways is a living narrative of how India works. So, this narrative must tell the story of the nation. The plot of this story is contained in some simple questions. Do trains run on time? Is it safe to travel by train, especially for women? Are stations and trains hygienic? Do they have access to clean drinking water? Do people respect and value public property? Is the railways adequately responding to the passenger load? Is overall connectivity in the country increasing? The answers to such questions not only construct the narrative of the Indian Railways but also of life in India.

The roadmap of investments and infrastructure for the railways must account for these fundamental questions. In addition, it has to be futuristic. India is a young nation where people are constantly on the move for education, employment and other purposes. And they demand uninhibited digital connectivity, alongside fundamental guarantees of timeliness, safety, hygiene and accountability. These aspects also play a critical role in strengthening the professional and business environment in the country.

So what does the rail budget offer on these fronts? At best, a sketchy outline without a concrete plan. Let us take the case of timeliness. How does the budget address this issue? Informing passengers about train schedules and delays through SMS alerts and apps is a welcome step but it does not replace the need for trains to run on time. As for connectivity, the budget speaks about last mile projects. However, it does not commit to the time-bound completion of the various such projects that have been pending for a long time — including many critical ones in Bihar. Also, in the spirit of fairness, savings from reduced fuel costs should have been passed on to consumers.

The railways must leverage the comparative advantages of the states while developing a long-term roadmap. For example, Bihar is the greatest contributor to the workforce and is likely to remain so. The state is also poised to lead the second Green Revolution. However, the investment approach outlined in the rail budget does not adequately incorporate ways to build on these advantages. For instance, it would be a good idea to develop new education- and training-related institutions in states that have a large workforce and low institutional presence.

Summing up, the rail budget is incomplete. It is a proposal of intent at a time when the people of India are eagerly awaiting action, not merely a statement of purpose. The ability to transform intent into concrete action is what the nation wants — and what the NDA government has not delivered.

The writer, chief minister of Bihar, was Union railway minister 1998-99 and 2001-04.

express@expressindia.com

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  1. A
    Avinash
    Feb 28, 2015 at 9:04 pm
    I must say this year railways budget is good in terms of unavailability of new promises but I don't see any concrete step on how to complete the long time pending and the newly announced projects. Mr. Prabhu might have seen his budget as a big success but there are many big s which will be very tough to fill in a year or two. You always present a budget for a year or two ahead not for long time in future.
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      prakash gotimukul
      Feb 27, 2015 at 11:44 am
      Nitish article is sour gapes in mouth. If he had continued with BJP may be he would hv negotiated for a Rly ministry as partner. Sitting in Bihar, taking bihar back to jungle raj is his greed for power, NK now wants to make comments on Rly as if he is an expert......these politicians are so good for nothing that they feel they can comment on anything. If he really cares for the job, he shd concentrate on his Bihar and find innovative ways of developing it. Instead he talks of rly missing the bus etc etc etc.Bihar has lost the bus for last 30 years and he has nothing to offer.. People are watching the antics of such dubious politicians and will punish him. Right now he is in lap of RJD who will soon devour him for ever.....
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        prakash
        Feb 27, 2015 at 9:38 am
        Nitish Kumar is just playing politics and that too very badly. This is the first time the rail budget is planning forward for the next 5 years. So he is damaging is credibility by saying the untruth this obviously.
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        1. S
          Sanjay Singh
          Feb 27, 2015 at 8:14 pm
          Dear Sir your budget that you presented during 2001-2 had a future vision as you claim, could you please tell us why after that 2010,2011,2012... people wanted to travel from Delhi to Patna(Your place) died just to board the train. Every year their is a problem, is it your vision of future. These accidents did take place during Laloo as Railway minister who is your best pal nowadays so what kind of vision you both have? Just to stick to chair by hook or crook?
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            Ak Narasimhan
            Feb 27, 2015 at 11:18 am
            That is what Democracy is! A fellow, who doesn't know anything about governance and who is infamous for messing up everything he touched is expressing his views (which obviously has been written by some top-level babu) and we all are discussing on what he said, of all people!! Take him alone and ask him what were his views, written here, extempore; atleast the gist of it. He would draw a blank!!!
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            1. अमरेन्द्र किशोर
              Feb 27, 2015 at 5:10 pm
              Most of the opinion below appear to take time to vent their anger against Nitish Kumar than reading even a single word of this article. Reading and listening is a good habit and provide food for thought. This nicely written article is having matching le 'Running Late', as article itself tells about we are late in implementing projects which can drive Railways to fulfill public aspirations. Please read, so you can know what was done in previous rail-budgets and then we can have a look on current budget and analyse which one is better and which one should be direction Indian Railways must take.
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                Arvind
                Feb 27, 2015 at 1:02 pm
                One can not expect any good words from Nitish Kumar, who is now well known in public as a power hungry and angry against Naendra Modi.As such one should not expect him for good utterance against NDA Govt particularly Narendra Modi.He is unreliable and can stab anyone in politics ti meet his end by hook or crook.Once upon time he was against Lalu Prasad Yadav calling his ruling as Jungle Rajya and now he is praising him to remain in power.It is nice that he left NDA which made Narendra to become PM otherwise he would tried his level best to oppose him as PM.
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                  B. SRIDHAR
                  Feb 27, 2015 at 12:10 pm
                  What can one expect from an opportunist who has the habit of kicking the ladder after reaching the top! Grapes are sour! This is the first budget which talks about taking the focus of railways back to safer running of trains, cleanlines both in train and stations, safety of pengers etc which are the core business areas of Railways. When a clerk is transferred and takes up a post where the table is full of dirt, what will be his or her approach? One mindset is that clear only those dirt which are lucrative and populist. Another mindset is that sort out the entire dust, re-arrange all files and accord priority for clearance with reference to the job on hand. The Railway Minsiter has done the second option which is the need of the hour and will put the system back on track. Nitish deliberately does not want to recognize this fact.
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                  1. S
                    sekhars
                    Feb 27, 2015 at 6:58 pm
                    Mr Kumar Please stop lecturing others. Focus on what you have on hand. Your state Bihar is in pathetic state. You ask these questions in your article "Do trains run on time? Is it safe to travel by train, especially for women? Are stations and trains hygienic? Do they have access to clean drinking water? Do people respect and value public property? Is the railways adequately responding to the penger load? Is overall connectivity in the country increasing? " can we ask same question to you regarding your state Bihar where you are the CM for over so many years now ? Does any thing works on time in Bihar ? Is drinking water available any where in Bihar ? Do people respect public property in Bihar ? what measures you have taken for increase demand of essential services in Bihar ? Why is the condition of roads, cleanliness and health services in Bihar ? It is easy to write and criticise. Bura jo dekhan main chala bura no milya koy. Jo dil dekha aapna mujhse bura na koy
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                    1. D
                      debadutta
                      Feb 27, 2015 at 9:10 pm
                      Give his some milk to drink and ask him to go to bed.
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                        indian
                        Feb 27, 2015 at 6:49 pm
                        The concept of bullet train as promised by BJP should be appreciated in this railwY budget.
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                          Gopal
                          Feb 27, 2015 at 11:27 am
                          No new trains. No pet projects in political consuency. This is what good governance looks like. Compare to previous politicized UPA budgets where money was diverted for wasteful populist schemes while failing to make important investments forcing the railways to go down.
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                            Indrajit
                            Feb 27, 2015 at 2:08 pm
                            Nitishji Bihar ko sambhaliye... nahi toh woh bhi haath se nikal jayeega! Railways ki chinta dijiye.
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                              Rakesh
                              Feb 27, 2015 at 5:33 pm
                              Mr. Nitish Kumar... Before commenting on railway budget, please find a ways on improving the law and order situation in Bihar first. We know you and Laloo are extremely intelling people and there is no doubt that you both are capable enough to take Bihar into Jungle Raj-2. Stop criticing others. People of Bihar will teach you a lesson-2 in next election.. Bihar is still standing at last in all aspects as compared to other states in India. Don't talk too much.
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                                KSRao
                                Feb 27, 2015 at 10:18 am
                                Two points merit discussion. 1. When Railways is running almost on loss, how can it p on the benefits of lower fuel charges to the pengers? In the Indian government, there was never any correlation between inputs and realisations. The fare and tariff were fixed based on the whimses of the railway minister of that time. So, let the fare stay wherever it is! There is no opportunity to reduce atll! 2. Bihar has contributed large work force. True! It conveys the impression that people from other parts of the country were not interested in joining railways and serving the country. During Lalu's 'golden' period, Biharis wrote railway exams from all centres in the country and were pushed through! Railways must be in this poor state because of the influx of unqualified and untrained people generously given jobs! Nitish must think twice before making such a loud noise about it!
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                                  GOPAL KULKARNI
                                  Feb 27, 2015 at 1:09 pm
                                  Nitesh Kumar's hatred towards Modi and the NDA government and his self-proclaimed know-all mindset, is clearly visible in this article. While the w world is saying that the Suresh Prabhu laid Railway Budget is a futuristic Budget, it is only grumbling Nitish who is saying otherwise. The simple truth is that Nitish still lives in his 20th century socialistic mindset, when there was all round poverty in India under Congress rule supported by the Communist parties and socialists like Lalu,Mulayam etc. It is now 21st Century and a very important sector like the Railways need to change their foundtions to suit the needs and standards of this century where India has to compete super-performer countries llike China, South Korea, Taiwan etc. within Asia. Anyone with little knowledge can say that the Prabhu Budget is a step in that direction to take India to a high growth era. Even almost all editorials (including that of Indian Exprss) have rightly appreciated the Rly.budget. Of course, Nitish and Dinesh Trivedi ( Rly.Minister for four months only ) are a cl in their own so far as jealousy, negativity and pessimism are concerned.
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                                  1. S
                                    Swaran Singh
                                    Feb 27, 2015 at 3:10 pm
                                    Nitish kumar might be the best administrator s of Bihar till now but his ambitions are driving him crazy. He formed Govt in Bihar with BJP support n than switched over to Congress n Laluji. People know the history of this unethical, opportunistic deception by Nitish Kumar. Now he has aligned with all the corrupt forces of Bihar except Paswan who luckily shifted to BJP camp before LokSabha elections. My argument is that Rail budget despite being a good budget n a tremendous launching pad for promising growth of Indian Railways, is being criticized by intellectually blind Kumar. His vision is blinded by jealousy. That's the sign of imitation of Nitish Kumar who being good administrator has mired himself inediocrity of politics.
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                                    1. 1
                                      1RKM1
                                      Feb 28, 2015 at 3:32 am
                                      Dumb CM of bihar extrapolating HIS experiences past .... how good a Railway minister he was is for all to see ...His only claim to fame is he scarpped the earthen "kulhad" for selling tea which his predecessor mr L.Yadav brought in with much fanfare ..... These MORONS dont live on planet earth ...... here we have a system bequeathed to the nation by the Brits ( God knows what the swadeshis would have done if they had to start from scratch ) which is creaking at the joints and bursting at the seams ..... the potion has almost quadrupled from 1947..... we need safty measures . have to maintain tracks and rolling stock we need power to electrify the network .... it has taken 68 years to have a track of 28 to 40 ikms in j &K ..... it has taken more than 16 years to even consider starting to roll our anti collision system developed by the konkan railway .... and all these nmorons can think of is how to run down the system more and blame it all on the poor of the country ...... charlatans of the first order ... for once a technocrat is trying to estblish a commercially viable system of bringing in modernity into our system and they are all crying foul ..... I wonder if EVEN GOD can save India from these charlatans .....
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                                        1RKM1
                                        Feb 28, 2015 at 3:40 am
                                        Thank you ... for quoting a brilliant doha from sant Kabir ji .... how appropriate? very relevent questions you rise ....I KNOW ..i have had innumerable problems trying to work for a charity in Bihar .....
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                                        1. k
                                          k.madhukar
                                          Feb 27, 2015 at 2:00 pm
                                          Nitishji,please don't talk through your hat.Don't you see our future for next 25 years is full of projects giosely announced by previous Railway ministers including you and not implemented. You want to add more ? can't you come out with some constructive criticism or suggestions. If not , atleast keep your tr** shut.
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                                            Nikhil Shah
                                            Feb 27, 2015 at 9:46 pm
                                            lo kallo baat inse khud huaa nahi chale unko nazar lagaane
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