The Congress in Parliament has been preoccupied by the rail budget. That’s just as well, given the sprawl of the Indian Railways, its role in the economy. What’s more, Railway Minister Sadananda Gowda’s budget left ample room for the diligent opposition to raise hard questions. For instance, public-private partnerships were trumpeted as the solution to just about every glitch, deadlock and problem. But why would private investment come to the railways now when it has been markedly reluctant to do so in the past? Or, why was the budget silent on the Rail Tariff Authority, scheduled to bring in a long overdue rationalisation of fares? And, what distinguishes this government’s plans from the previous ones? But these are not the questions the Congress is asking. As the main force of the opposition — never mind its pitiful numbers — it is not critiquing the NDA for presenting a rail budget that often appears to depend only on a wing and a prayer. No, the Congress is breathing fire, instead, at what it calls a breach of official secrecy.
This paper reported on July 8 — the day the rail budget was presented — that the government proposed to draw corporate and business travellers to trains by creating an “office on wheels”, complete with WiFi. How could this be printed before it was presented to the House, is the Congress’s question. In its indignation, on this specific measure too, it sidesteps the real issues. Like, what would be the costs and benefits of carving out space for the new service on mainline trains that are overbooked already?
Earlier this week, the NDA executed an about-turn on the Henderson Brooks report, arguing against its declassification, just like the UPA had done. There can be bipartisan consensus, it seems — on ensuring that government remains as opaque as possible. But shhhh, let’s keep this meeting of minds quiet, or someone might hear, or worse, report it.