Railway Budget 2016:The most important part of the minister’s speech was the setting up of seven missions for attaining key long-term objectives for Indian Railways
Railway Budget 2016: Suresh Prabhu’s second Rail budget mercifully sticks to the tried and tested formula of pragmatism, and did not announce hundreds of trains, as had been his predecessors’ trademark.
Going for simple but vitally important passenger amenities and steps towards travel experience, Prabhu has announced a slew of measures, some of which had featured in the previous Rail Budget, but have now been tweaked to be more effective. Once again, the focus is on greater ease of booking, with more points of sale such as with hand-held devices and instant refund of unused tickets online, instead of having to trudge to the ticket window, etc.
Basing his initiatives on the massive feedback the Indian Railways website has generated, his solutions, while meeting most demands, mercifully do not cost the moon. However, as they say, the devil is in the detail, and Prabhu will have to closely monitor not only the implementation but also the maintenance of various e-applications, to ensure that they deliver not only what was envisaged but also maintain the quality of service to acceptable standards and expectations of the discerning passenger.
On the lines of Nitish Kumar’s Sampark Kranti, Lalu Yadav’s Garib Rath, and Mamata Banerjee’s Duronto, Prabhu would like to leave his mark with Antyodaya Express trains on premier corridors. However, with all unreserved second-class accommodation, seat grabbing by unscrupulous elements to be vacated at a price at the starting station is a distinct possibility which the station station staff will have to guard against.
Upgrading the station superintendent to a station director at all major stations, with all departments reporting to him, is a welcome step and should help improve efficiency and delivery of services. Undoubtedly, the scheme’s success will entirely depend on the calibre of the officer who is selected for the post, and it should not become another slot to be filled on a seniority basis.
Emphasising his thrust for garnering new lines of freight business, Prabhu has accorded high priority for setting up logistics parks. The newly-created Transport Logistics Corporation of India expects to create 10 such parks by 2016-17, with a focus on providing last-mile connectivity for freight business which could result in significant reduction in logistics costs.
Perhaps the most significant part of his speech was the setting up of seven missions for attaining certain key long-term objectives.
Starting with Mission 25 Tonne, which aims to upgrade all freight corridors to 25-tonne axle-load, hiking throughput by 10-20%, the list includes achieving Mission Zero Accidents, which will eliminate all broad-gauge unmanned level crossings in the next 3-4 years.
Mission PACE (Procurement and Consumption Efficiency) aims to realise significant savings and improvement in the quality of goods and services, and bring it in line with international practices. Throughput is a combination of tonnage and speed, and Mission Raftaar will complement Mission 25 Tonne, and target doubling average speeds of freight trains and increasing the average speed of super-fast mail/express trains by 25kph in the next five years.
As much as 85% of traffic originates from private sidings and freight terminals, and while there are more than 400 proposals under various stages of approvals, in the next two years Prabhu aims, under Mission Hundred, to commission at least 100 sidings.
Indian Railways’ accounts are already moving from single to double entry systems and from cash-based to completely accrual-based accounting, which Prabhu does not consider great shakes. His Mission Beyond Book-keeping is an ambitious plan to make its accounting become as good as that of a thriving commercial entity, and would like it to go a step further by establishing an accounting system where outcomes can be tracked to inputs, vital for any decision-making process based on hard facts and not just hunch.
Last but not the least is Mission Capacity Utilisation, under which two new Dedicated Freight Corridors would be commissioned by 2019, for carrying freight traffic between Delhi-Mumbai and Delhi-Kolkata. With transfer of goods trains to the new corridors, valuable track capacity would be released to enable upgrading passenger services on these trunk routes.
Prabhu’s plate seems to be full. Now it’s time to deliver on the promises.
The author is former member, Railway Board