By Ruma Dubey
One has to hand it over to the Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu. Without taking the traditional “poem” route to begin his speech, he did the best thing possible – he quoted a couple of feedbacks on the hygiene and fast responsive actions of the Indian Railways in the last one year. And you hear the entire speech, what comes across is a great sense of pride; the pride which is so evident in Prabhu comes across loud and clear. The magnanimity of the Railway network and the service it provides is a realization we experience every time the Railway Budget comes calling.
The Minister has taken small steps but all very good ones for improving the Railway experience and reducing complaints of the customers. Yes, customer service came forth as the prime focus. Small things like train hostesses to welcome travelers with roses, local cuisine for choice, ten more mechanised kitchens, third party audit for catering, overnight double-decker "Uday" expresses to be introduced on busiest route, 1780 automatic ticket vending machine to be introduced, 17,000 bio toilets in trains & additional toilets in 475 stations will be provided before 31st March 2016. The list is huge and you can see a few of them in the highlights stated below. Thus customer satisfaction is the theme which runs all along – most certainly a much better theme than merely introducing new trains and tracks.
The Minister also tried to put forth another strong message across – mere rail fare hikes cannot be the only means to increase revenue; we need to look beyond that and explore other avenues. LIC investing Rs.1.5 lakh crore over the next five years is very big news. Monetization of railway assets, more investors like LIC coming in and private sector enterprise are the avenues for revenue receipts. Though he has not spelt out anything specific on how revenues will go up, as one can see, the plans for the year are also small.
Prabhu also promised to usher in an era of transparency – he said that social media will be used to ensure transparency, switching over to paperless system, ensure projects get sanctioned on time. Sounds ideal, almost Utopian. But will this really be implemented?
The train travelers might be happy with this Budget but the markets are not going to like this Budget much as there really was nothing for it to celebrate. The marketmen felt that the budget is good in intent but it has nothing to bring much cheer.
Highlights of the Railway Budget
- No hike in either freight or passenger fares
- Targets operating ratio of 92% for FY17 v/s 90% of FY16, taking into the account the effect of the 7th Pay Commission
- To create employment of 14 crore man-days by FY19.
- To electrify 2000 kms by next year; increase in electrification budget by 50%
- Broad guage line building target at 7 kms per day
- Connectivity to be increased to North-east; To convert Agartala to broad guage
- To double investment to Rs.1.2 lakh crore for FY17; to increase revenye growth by 10% in FY17.
- Minimum of 20 stations to be targeted for increasing advertising revenue by four times
- Sarthi Seva in Konkan Railways for help to senior citizens; will expand this service.
- cleaning of toilets by requests through SMS.
- Local cuisine of choice will be made available to passengers; to extend e-catering to all rail stations.
- Multi-purpose stalls at station to provide multiple services like milk and medicines.
- To include e-ticket facility for foreign debit and credit card holders
- To introduce bar-coded tickets on pilot basis to tackle menace of ticketless travel.
- Railway University soon at Vadodara
- 33% sub-quota for women under all reserved categories.
- India's first rail auto hub to come up in Chennai.
- To work with Karnataka State Government for suburban rails.
- Ring Railway to be redeveloped in partnership with the Delhi government.
- Invite FM radio stations to provide train borne entertainment via PA systems
- To publish Rail Bandhu magazine in all regional languages
- Elevated rail corridors from Churchgate to Virar and CST to Panvel on the cards.
- To install GPS-based digital display in coaches for showing upcoming stations.
- Coolies will be called 'Sahayaks