Opposition Congress Thursday attacked the government over the state of affairs in the Indian Railway during the debate on the Rail Budget in Rajya Sabha. Senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel said the railways require a big surgical operation as it has become “sick”. He also accused the government of raising rail fares through the “back door”.
Initiating the debate on the budget, Patel said while expenditure has increased, revenue has declined. There was a shortfall in gross traffic receipts of Rs 15,744 crore between budget estimates and revised estimates, he added. “Both passenger and freight revenue is down. If you claim the economy is growing at 7.5 per cent, then why are your revenues declining,” he asked.
Patel also said the overall debt of the Railways has risen from 24 per cent in 2010 to 50 per cent in 2016, while internal surplus has vanished. He said the Railways is planning to borrow Rs 1.5 lakh crore from the LIC. “Is this sound economics? In the years to come, the loans will get accumulated if you follow the Gujarat model of development,” he said.
He accused the government of “using the back door” to increase price of tickets. “You now have premium Tatkal and Tatkal. Why are you using a back door to raise prices? Why don’t you increase price through the budget itself?”
Apparently referring to the bullet train project, he said the government should pay attention to the real issues plaguing the sector rather than trying to copy models from outside. “Bullet train will need a Rs 70,000 crore loan. And Japan will play an important role in contracting. Do we need this when our trains are not achieving target speed? The UPA set a model for high speed railways which can be a model for India,” he said.
Defending the budget, BJP’s R K Sinha said the government was committed to overall reforms in the railways and was even acting on tweets of children which was “a revolutionary step”.