Railway minister Suresh Prabhu presented the railway budget for 2015-16 in the parliament. The budget is noted for its distinctness from the previous budgets as this time it did not announce a new train or new railway line.
Thus, Suresh Prabhu changed the rules of the traditional budgetary game dramatically when he became the first rail minister in memory who did not announce a single new train or a new railway line. He told that this was really the most important reform and the depoliticization of railways would begin with this budget.
The budget kept passenger fares unchanged but ‘rationalized’ freight rates, effectively increasing them on some key items like foodgrains and urea on short routes. This is expected to yield an additional Rs 4,000-odd crore for the railways over the year. Moreover, junior minister Manoj Sinha insisted that this extra burden will not be passed on to consumers or farmers.
The budget identifies Delhi-Howrah and Delhi-Mumbai as “overutilized” and promises that these would be decongested by doubling, trebling or even quadrupling lines. This, Prabhu pointed out, would also improve average speeds of both passenger and goods trains.
New technology for trains, which ensures faster acceleration and deceleration by powering each coach rather than just the engine, was also part of the strategy to enhance speeds and reduce travel time on key , high-traffic routes.
Prabhu promised passengers that he would ensure that travel on the railways would be a “happy experience”. Railway minister Suresh Pabhu assured passengers he would focus on cleanliness -from disposable bed linen and dustbins to bio-toilets dovetailing into the Swachh Bharat campaign.
Passengers will also now be able to book tickets four months in advance, against the current two months, order food online, get SMS alerts on arrival and departure of trains, and even get a pick-up-and-drop facility.
Women’s security is sought to be addressed by installing CCTV cameras in ladies’ compartments “without compromising on privacy”.
The budget promised to make a beginning towards ensuring financial sustainability by keeping the operating ratio – which measures the percentage of railway income that is used up in routine operational expenses – to 88.8% in 2015-16, a level that has not been achieved in the last nine years.