If there is one thing that touches the maximum number of Indian lives, it is the railways. Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu’s decision to leave passenger fares unchanged in his budget, aimed at pleasing the common man, has left many wondering on the impact it will have on an already strained balance sheet of the country’s largest employer.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed the budget, saying it will play a key role in the country's rejuvenation by adding more jobs.
"Rail Budget showcases a vision to reorganise, restructure & rejuvenate Railways with new processes, structures, norms & sources of revenue," Modi said.
Rail Budget caters to all sections of society. It stands out because it is infrastructure-led & employment generating budget: PM.— Press Trust of India (@PTI_News) February 25, 2016
The Congress Party criticized the budget, saying that it has fallen short in all matters pertaining to the common man. The party went on to say that the budget was high on rhetoric and low on content.
Your commitments are as hollow as your budget, Mr Minister. You promised safe travel & heinous crimes increased! pic.twitter.com/q75wwKl2tS— INC India (@INCIndia) February 25, 2016
Nationalist Congress Party likened the rail budget to ‘house-keeping’, referring to Prabhu’s proposal to include two-four Deen Dayalu coaches with plenty of mobile charging points and potable water in long distance trains for unreserved passengers. The railway minister also announced SMART coaches with more amenities including automatic doors, accessible dustbins and more mobile charging points.
The Railway Minister said that porters will be trained in soft skills and will be called ‘Sahayaks’ and not ‘Coolies’ hereon.
Though Prabhu announced the setting up of Common User Auto Rail Hub at Wallajahbad near Chennai, building a suburban network in Chennai and also the beautification of Nagapattinam Railway Station, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa said the railway minister failed to meet the expectations of Tamilians.
Railway budget failed to meet expectations of Tamil Nadu people, Jayalalithaa says https://t.co/xilP7WbM4R— TOI India (@TOIIndiaNews) February 25, 2016
Congress leader Ashwani Kumar said the railway budget came as a rude shock on all parameters.
The minister also said that a special purpose vehicle for the Ahmedabad-Mumbai high speed corridor was registered this month. The entity, a joint venture between the Ministry of Railways and the governments of Gujarat and Maharashtra, has a paid-up capital of Rs 20,000 crore.
From introducing Antyodaya Express & Deen Dayalu coaches to no hike in fares, #RailBudget2016 caters to the expectations of the common man.— Anandiben Patel (@anandibenpatel) February 25, 2016
Prabhu added that the government plans to convert the Academy of Railways in Vadodara into a university.
India’s 1st Railway University at Vadodara will create skilled manpower & provide innovative-sustainable ideas for railways. #RailBudget2016— Anandiben Patel (@anandibenpatel) February 25, 2016
According to Prabhu, the railways incurred a loss of Rs 30,000 crore in 2015-16 as passenger fares, despite consecutive hikes, continue to be subsidised at the cost of freight charges. Some attribute this to the prevailing conditions in the broader economy rather than a case of subsidised passenger fares eating into the revenues of railways.
“Though there have been slippages in the revenue target in the current fiscal, it has got more to do with the overall economic slowdown, more so in sectors like coal, steel and iron ore, which have been worst hit, but have been the major revenue sources for the railways,” industry body ASSOCHAM observed.
This strategy of using higher freight charges to subsidise the passenger fares has already seen the railways losing out on freight as improving road network has seen goods transport gradually move away from the railways. The Railways depends on its freights earnings for funding its capital investments.
This is the budget of reforms. For the first time interest of poorest of poor has been taken care by the Rail Minister #RailBudget2016— Prakash Javadekar (@PrakashJavdekar) February 25, 2016
“Subdued growth in revenues – both passenger and freight – presented a compelling reason for another increase in fares, but Prabhu didn’t give in to hiking fare as an easy solution to resources woes,” Tax, M&A and Risk Advisory firm BMR Advisors said.
However, the budget failed to pep up the mood on Dalal Street. The Street closely watches the rail budget for clues of what to expect from the finance minister’s budget. Shares of companies with exposure to railways ended the day lower.
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