By Aishwarya Dhakarey, Symbiosis Law School, Pune.
The highlights of the budget could reflect Prime Minister’s three initiatives in the whole nine yards namely Swachch Bharat Mission, Make in India and Digital India. To start with, a great relief comes in the form of no increase in the basic passenger rail fares. This will tickle everyone pink by virtue of the reduction in petrol and diesel prices. A stipulated amount of Rs 8.5 lacs will be invested in Railways in the offing. The Ministry of Railways proposed that the money could be raised from multiple sources ranging from multilateral development banks to pension funds. Rail tickets can now be booked well in advance before 120 days of the actual journey date. The crucial steps would include improving human resources and revamping management practices, systems, and processes. The budget has also been announced with a view to create job opportunities. The budgeted operating ratio is fixed at 88.5 % .Operating ratio means the money spent by railways to earn the revenue. Suresh Prabhu made a word that a separate department will be created to deal with cleanliness and hygiene. He also assured that 6,000 kilometers of track will be electrified this time as against a 462 kilometers of the previous year
There are also recommendations for capacity augmentation i.e. to increase the transport capacity. There will be 77 projects coming up covering 9,400 km of doubling/tripling/quadrupling works along with electrification, covering almost all States, at a cost of Rs. 96,182 crore. This is prima facie higher than the amount so sanctioned. Additionally, there are Fast-track sanctioned works on 7,000 kms of double/third/fourth lines. There are also plans to complete the 55 km section of Eastern DFC (Freight Corridor) in the current year itself. Preliminary engineering-cum-traffic survey (PETS) for four other DFCs in progress will take place as well. There is even acceleration envisioned for pace of Railway electrification; around 6,608 route kilometers sanctioned for the year 2015-16, an increase of 1330% over the previous year.
The Eco friendly approach
Around 17,000 toilets will be replaced by bio-toilets primarily stressing on the concept of Clean Railways. The Railway Ministry has promised to have allotted 67% more funds for passenger amenities like water facilities, food courts. Research, Design and Standards Organization (RDSO) has also been tasked with making available airplane like vacuum toilets. Moreover, online booking of disposable bedrolls at select stations is being extended to all passengers through the IRCTC portal on a payment basis.
Reform measures: the reality check
“I am particularly delighted that for the first time there is a concrete vision for technology up gradation & modernization of the Railways, “the Prime Minister had tweeted on the occasion of the announcement of the budget. One good thing about the budget is that no new trains will be running and all efforts will be put in to improve upon the efficacy of the existing trains on the list.
To begin with, the e-catering facility
With this amenity at hand, one can order food at the time of booking tickets on the IRCTC website. The colossus food service will be first experimented in 108 trains and soon after, will be introduced in all other trains. There will be tie ups with Dominos and other local cuisine providers on trial basis.
A 24×7 helpline
An all-India 24×7 helpline number 138 will become operational with effect from March 1, 2015 to attend to the problems and grievances of the railway customers. The passengers can use to file mobile applications for a quick disposal of their complaints.
SMS alerts on rescheduled timings
Like air services, the passengers are probably going to get informed about the delays or cancellations happening in case of running trains. SMS alerts will be sent 15-30 minutes in advance of arrival of trains at the destination.
Fringe benefits to women, elderly and differently abled
There are slew of measures proposed to be taken to ensure comfortable train commute and travel to the most vulnerable groups of the society. These include:
- Discounted etickets after one time registration for the elderly
- The new coaches will now be braille enabled to make them more visually impaired friendly
- Online booking of wheel chairs for the old, disabled and pregnant women
- More lifts and escalators at major stations
- Ticket Examiners would be there to help senior citizens, pregnant women and differently-abled people in obtaining lower berth as and when possible
Quick and hassle free ticketing process
Hand-held terminals will now be provided to Travelling Ticket Examiners (TTEs), which can be used for verification of passengers and downloading charts. Furthermore, the advance ticket booking period is being raised to four months.
Rail Budget 2014 v Rail Budget 2015
If one believes the statistics of the previous year, the operating ratio was recorded to be 91.8 %. However, this is going to probably decline by two percent in the current year. (Source: Railway Budget 2015-16 document) Therefore, the revenue so generated will be little less than the last year’s owing to an aberrant expenses-revenue ratio. Moreover, reliance on market investment and borrowing is surely not enduring as an option until and unless there is a concrete plan to go about it. The budget is very balanced but is to be looked forward for its very implementation.