The Polit Bureau of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has issued the
Despite delivering probably the longest railway budget speech the budgetary
proposals do not evoke any sense of well being in the Indian railways.
Having hiked the passenger and freight charges several times prior to the
budget, it was only natural that further hikes in the budget were not
announced. The people of India were hoping that the budget will address the
issue of expanding railway connectivity and take substantive measures for
improving passenger amenities. On both these counts the budget was very
Most importantly, given the alarming rise in rail accidents it was hoped
that better measures for ensuring safety standards and financial allocations
for enhancing safety measures would be taken up. Unfortunately, the budget
does not generate any greater confidence amongst the Indian people for whom
the railways constitute the most important link in the country's
connectivity and therefore its unity.
The most worrisome aspect of the budget concerns the financial health of the
railways. Last year's performance has been much below the anticipated
earnings by the railways. Both freight and passenger earnings have
significantly dropped and the gap between the budgetary estimates and the
revised estimates of railway revenue is around a massive Rs. 17,000 crores.
Further, the railways require around Rs. 32,000 crores to fulfill the
obligations and recommendations of the 7th Pay Commission. This means that
the railways are starting the financial year with a shortfall of nearly Rs.
50,000 crores. This shortfall, the railway minister hopes, will be bridged
and surplus funds would be available for improving the railways through a
massive dose of public-private partnership and the selling of the assets
currently held by the Indian railways. The PPP model has globally proved to
be a failure in improving the railways all across the world. Selling assets
is like selling family silver to meet the day to day expenditure. This makes
neither economic nor common sense.
Consequently, the grandiose projects announced by the railway minister, will
in all probability, remain on paper like most of the earlier announcements
made during the recent years.
Another disturbing aspect is that there is very little in the budget for
protecting, leave aside improving the welfare of the railway workers. The
railway minister praised the railway workers as the mainstay of the Indian
Railways. This however appears mere lip service. Most of the services have
already been privatized and the remaining few are also to enter the PPP
mode. The workers discharging these services do not have any protection and
in some cases are not even paid the stipulated minimum wages. This does not
augur well for the future health of the Indian railways.
The CPI(M) has all along demanded that the Indian Railways must maintain its
role in providing better services to the people as its foremost objective
and not be reduced into a mere accounting exercise balancing its revenues
and expenditures. We will have to wait for the general budget to see if
there is any significant improvement in the budgetary support for the
railways. Given the fiscal constraints and the overall economic slowdown in
the Indian economy under this BJP government this however will not be
The consequent increased burdens on the people, the privatization of its
assets and the abdication of the responsibility towards its workforce
together mounts a further attack on the Indian people, who are crying for
(Hari Singh Kang)
For Central Committee Office