Politicians have a poetic licence on rhetorical flourishes. And Railway minister
Dinesh Trivedi indulged in it while presenting the railway budget for 2012-13. He talked in officious, if not pompous, tones about the importance of Indian railway for the economic growth of the country. And there were enough Hindi couplets to dress up the speech as well. The more important part was of course the argument of the budget exercise this year. He said at the moment railways were contributing only less than one pre cent growth of the GDP, and this should be raised to 2.5 per cent. He spoke of safety, its utmost importance, how modernisation and upgradation of technology, modernisation of tracks and rolling stock and of modernising the signalling system were essential links to the safety. Then he talked of increasing the speed of passenger trains to 160 km per hour so that travel time is reduced and so is consumption of fuel. He also talked of having dedicated corridors where trains can reach a speed of 260 km per hour.
The cunning part of his speech was that he said that the government should allocate more money for railways it has earmarked for infrastructure in the 12th Five Year Plan because railways is a critical part of infrastructure. This was a curious argument coming from a minister in the minister which is engaged in formulating the 12th Five Year Plan. He was also making the point that budgetary allocation for the Railways was inadequate and it will be necessary to increase it. He adopted a tone as though he was not part of the government and he was only an ally. This is something that a seasoned political ally and agriculture minister Sharad Pawar would ever do. Neither Trivedi nor his leader, Mamata Banerjee, can ever hope to match the realpolitik of Pawar.
Of course, like a good politician he announced a lot of new things -- a railway tariff regulatory authority, a member of marketing in the railway board, an authority for modernising railway stations. And he raised the passenger fare hike in a clever manner -- 5 paise per km for passenger trains and 10 paise per km for express trains, but he did not say whether the railways was in deficit and whether this hike in passenger fare would reduce or cover up the deficit.
CPI-M leaders Basudeb Acharia and Sitaram Yechury had pointed out that the market share of railways in passenger and freight traffic has gone down to 36 per cent 35 per cent respectively from a position of monopoly, and that the salvation for the railways would lie in recovering the market share. Of course, the communist leaders too did not have an answer as to how to revive the railways in order to recapture the lost market share.
Trivedi has also indulged in the mediocre populism of introducing new trains and new lines.