Indian Railways & The Economy

In the context of the completion of 2 years of BJP Government at the Centre, various Union Ministers, including the Railway Minister have been giving interviews to the media about the performance of their ministries during the last two years.

The Government, backed by various independent agencies, including international ones, have been claiming a near 7.5% increase in the country’s GDP in the last financial year. The Government’s claims must be based on solid data – and I don’t disbelieve them – but the growth can apparently be seen only through the experts’ eyes. The common man sees, for example,and the official data also indicates that the industrial production, the exports and imports have been declining during the year in question. Due to failure of monsoon in three consecutive years, the agricultural production has been adversely affected. The investors in stock markets and mutual funds have badly burnt their hands. The banks are in a very bad shape and have reduced return on deposits.The investors and depositors have consequently lesser money in their hands. The credit off-take from banks is not picking up. Railways have officially conceded drop in passenger traffic and freight carried. Mining and electricity generation have perhaps been the mitigating factors. Overall,however, the mood among the common people appears to be that of despondency, or at least lacks any enthusiasm, despite the fall in inflation.

I wish to pen here only a few lines about the Railways. This department still has vestiges of the consequences of socialistic policies followed in the Nehru and Indira Gandhi eras in the shape of severe shortages of travelling accommodation and consequent black-marketing, unending queues,operation of touts and quotas operated for VIPs etc.

The current Railway Minister is undoubtedly a man who means business. He has impeccable reputation for delivering on promises and is respected for his vision and capacity to act. He has already won the heart of railway passengers by solving their problems, encountered while travelling, through twitter. He has grandiose plans for transforming the railways through major reforms, has huge projects lined up including the setting up of engine and coach manufacturing units,introduction of high speed trains, modernization of railway stations etc. He hopes to be able to find the huge funds required for these projects through innovative funding mechanisms devised by him. All this is very inspiring.

However, the average railway passenger is not very much interested
in the grandiose plans. His expectations from the government are rather modest. All he wants is to travel like humans and have the basic travel facilities. As it is, people are packed like sardines in unreserved coaches.As for reserved coaches, it is hard to get reservation even months in advance. Reservation counters decline availability of reserved accommodation minutes after the scheduled time for opening of reservations for a date which is 3 months ahead.Wait listed passengers face innumerable hassles. Touts and fraudsters do good business and sometimes passengers have to pay for these people’s sins by paying fines and even getting jailed when found travelling on tickets provided by touts.

I think it is the Railways’ duty to give top most priority to solving these problems of the passengers which have been found intractable during the last 68 years. Far from thinking of competing with roads and air, they should welcome any diversion of traffic to these modes. In fact, Railways may encourage even medium distance night travel by buses on the model of some sleeper buses operating on some routes in the South.Fares have to be fixed in such a manner that correct rail road travel ratios are achieved. The problem of over-crowding on the Railways also arises as employment generating centres in the country are limited and people have to travel from all over to these centres in search of employment. These factors have to be dealt with by devising correct economic policies by the State and Central Governments.

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