Modinomics on wheels

The railway budget is never known to be a curtain raiser for the national budget. However, the financial statement for the Indian Railways presented by Sadananda Gowda on Tuesday for the year 2014-15 outlined the economic vision of the Narendra Modi government. The resistance to populist demands and itch to get private participation can be safely said to be the cornerstone of the maiden budget presented by railway minister Sadananda Gowda and it’s purported to, as the prime minister put it, ‘act like the growth engine.’

Explaining the not too admirable situation the railways finds itself in, Gowda said, ‘Railways is expected to earn like a commercial enterprise but serve like a welfare organisation. These two objectives are like two rails of the railway track, which though travel together but never meet. So far, Indian Railways have managed to do tight-rope walking by balancing these twin conflicting objectives.’

A few moments later, Gowda made clear that the new government did not approve of the populist policies of the past. ‘It is unheard of a business that has a monopoly, that has nearly 125 crore customer base, that has 100% sale on advance payment but still starved of funds,’ he said indicating that though the railway services would be put on fast track, it would go slow on populist measures, at least for the time being.

He pushed ahead with the agenda of private participation ferreting out figures of mismanagement, incomplete projects, poor services, filthy environment and lack of safety and then came out with the panacea, ‘Growth of railway sector depends heavily on availability of funds for investment in rail infrastructure. Internal revenue sources and government funding are insufficient to meet the requirement. Hence, Ministry of Railways is seeking cabinet approval to allow FDI in rail sector.’ It did not end there as Gowda added, ‘It is our target that bulk of our future projects will be financed through PPP mode, including the high-speed rail which requires huge investments.’ In course of the Budget speech, he also said that fare revision would be linked to the price of fuel in market.
Having administered the dose of bitter medicine, Gowda thereafter rolled out schemes, which would ordinarily raise cockles of any passenger’s heart. ‘Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayeeji gave India the Golden Quadrilateral Road Network. Today, under the leadership of  Shri Narendra Modiji, we are embarking on an ambitious plan to have a Diamond Quadrilateral Network of High Speed Rail, connecting major Metros and growth centers of the country. A provision of Rs100 crore has been made in this Budget for HSRC (High Speed Rail Corridor) for taking further steps.’ Pushing the idea further, Gowda said that he planned to develop the railway stations of the 10 metros on the lines international stations, matching the airports in facilities. And let there be no doubt that it would be done through the private-public partnership (PPP).

And to cap the initiative for corporatisation of the biggest government department, the minister announced appointment of two committees – one to look into project implementation and the second for budget monitoring thus decentralising decision making which earlier had to be routed through the Railway Board. The two committees would directly report to the minister.

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