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Thursday, 15 March 2012 02:19
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Rosy projections, but tough and futuristic calls made

In keeping with what he said before the Railway budget, Dinesh Trivedi has taken some tough decisions, though their fate is hostage to his mercurial leader who opposed the passenger fare hikes the very minute they were made, though they added just 2% to overall revenues. Trivedi surprised everyone by hiking passenger fares by around 10%—43% for some suburban trains where the maximum losses are made each year—though the savvy minister packaged them as 2-3 paise hikes per km. Adding to drama, he later said he never consulted Mamata Banerjee on this, indeed he had a larger job to do. It’s early days yet, and the finance minister is equally broke, but with the Railways making a start on reforms, Trivedi may just be able to get some extra budgetary support.

A week before the budget, Trivedi had told The Express Group he wanted to get to a stage where 30% of his revenues came from non-traffic services—he got the idea while sitting through a Japan Railway presentation—and he has made important moves in that direction. An Indian Railway Station Development Authority is to be set up, tasked with developing railway stations along the lines of those abroad—or airports in India—with restaurants, hotels, shopping malls etc. A pilot catering project is to be begun with getting, say, airport caterers like TajSATS to work with the railways; pre-booking of meals; e-tickets on SMS … Since PPP is the only way out, and not just because the Railways are horribly broke—for the second year running, the vital Operating Ratio is 95%—a separate Member PPP post is to be created in the Railway Board. Though it is some distance away, there is the possibility of having an independent tariff authority setting cargo and passenger fares based on costs.

Trivedi’s budget, of course, will almost certainly trip on the numbers given how rosy they are—a 30% hike in cargo revenues is budgeted and around half of this (R11,000 crore) is to come from coal freight charges (pity the power producers!). No one has ever achieved a 10 percentage point reduction in the vital operating ratio, more so when no sharp buoyancy in GDP is expected in FY13. Perhaps why most of Trivedi’s speech was devoted to his plans for the next 5 years. Apart from his leader, Trivedi’s bigger problem could be the railway bureaucracy that he himself said suffers from the implementation bug. More than a decade later, the famous anti-collision device has hardly been implemented, and ditto for many of the schemes he announced like modernisation of railway stations, e-procurement etc. Despite repeated reminders from the PMO, plans to get private players to set up even engine manufacturing plants have got delayed for years. As Trivedi put it, manzil abhi dur hai, aur raasta jatil hai.


Last Updated ( Thursday, 15 March 2012 02:20 )

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