Citizens' Issues
Railways seek course correction; Gowda avoids populist measures in rail budget

Gowda proposed a multi-pronged approach to make Railway journeys safe, secure and comfortable for passengers while placing thrust on passenger amenities, cleanliness and efficient station management

DV Sadananda Gowda, in his maiden rail budget sought to seek correction in the light of mismanagement, apathy, populism in starting projects and severe fund crunch that have inflicted the railways over the years. The minister of railways talked about safety issues and ways to improve ticketing, reservation, amenities and cleanliness. As usual, Mumbai suburban network that carries over 75 lakh commuters everyday, remained mostly neglected in the Budget, except supplying new EMUs over next two years.


Presenting the rail budget, termed as 'white paper' on social media, the minister, said, "There had been focus on sanctioning projects rather than completing them. Only one of the 99 new rail line projects announced in 10 years has been completed. There are four projects over 30 years old but still incomplete."


Passenger amenities

Gowda proposed a multi-pronged approach to make Railway journeys safe and secure and comfortable for passengers and placed more thrust on passenger amenities, cleanliness and efficient station management. He also announced foot-over bridges, escalators and lifts at all major stations. The minister said, Indian Railways would make earnest attempt this year to provide sufficient water supply, platform shelters and toilets at the Railway Stations.


He said, Indian Railways propose to extend the service of Battery-operated Carts to facilitate differently-abled and senior citizens to reach any platform comfortably at all major stations.


He said, Railways would also like to involve individuals, NGOs, Trusts, Charitable Institutions and Corporates to provide passenger amenities at stations.


On safety and security, Gowda has proposed introduction of advance technology for rail-flaw detection to check causes of accidents, a significant amount has been kept for road-over and road-under bridges. He said, "A pilot project will be launched on automatic door closing in mainline and sub-urban coaches. In order to make women safer while travelling, the Railway will recruit 4,000 women constables and coaches for ladies will be escorted."


Cleanliness in trains and stations

The rail minister proposed to outsource cleaning activities at 50 major stations to professional agencies and to set up a separate Housekeeping Wing to have focused attention and exclusive responsibility of maintaining cleanliness and sanitation at stations. He said, a Corpus Fund for upkeep of stations will be set up.


The Minister said, use of CCTVs at stations will be extended to monitor cleanliness activities. All-India level complaint/helpline number will be printed on the back of all PRS tickets. System of periodic third-party inspections will be introduced. Further, Bio-toilets will be increased in sufficient numbers in trains in order to mitigate the problem of direct discharge of human waste on the tracks and platform aprons at stations.


According to Gowda, the Onboard Housekeeping Services, currently operational in 400 trains, has received good feedback from passengers, which he said, will be extended to all the important trains. The Indian Railways also proposes to increase Mechanized Laundries in order to improve quality of the bedrolls provided in AC Coaches, he added.


Improvement in catering, food courts at major stations

In order to improve the quality, hygiene of on-board catering services and to provide variety, Gowda said the Indian Railways will introduce pre-cooked (ready-to-eat) meals of reputed brands in a phased manner. In addition to the third party audit, a system of collecting feedback through IVRS mechanism, from the travelling passengers on the quality of food served, will be launched shortly, he said.


The minister also proposed to set up food courts at major stations to provide an option to passengers for ordering regional cuisine while onboard, through emails, SMS and Smart Phones. A pilot project will be started shortly between New Delhi-Amritsar and New Delhi-Jammu Tawi sections, Gowda added.


Boost for IT initiatives

Gowda said, revamping Railway Reservation System into Next Generation e-Ticketing will be taken up with provision of platform tickets and unreserved tickets also over internet. The Railway has proposed real-time tracking of trains and rolling stocks, mobile based Wakeup Call System for passengers, mobile based destination arrival alert and Wi-fi Services in A-1 and A category stations and in select trains. Indian Railways has also planned paperless offices in five years, the minister added.


He said, the Indian Railways will improve the system capabilities in e-ticketing to support 7,200 tickets per minute as against 2,000 tickets per minute and allow 1.20 lakh simultaneous users at any point in time. He said, efforts will also be made to provide facility of buying Platform Tickets and unreserved tickets over internet. Parking-cum-Platform Combo Tickets will be launched to facilitate the passengers and to save their time, he added.


Gowda said, the Indian Railways is expanding the scope of online booking for people to book a Train, book a Coach, book a Berth and book a Seat in Chair Car besides extending online booking facility of railway retiring room across all stations.


Bullet trains and diamond quadrilateral network of high-speed rail

In a bid to modernise Indian Railway network, Gowda proposed a bullet train on Mumbai-Ahmadabad route besides increasing speed of trains to 160-200 kmph in select nine sectors. He said, "The Railway has also planned setting up of Diamond Quadrilateral Network of High Speed Rail connecting major metros and growth centres of the country. Identified stations will be developed to international standards with modern facilities on lines of newly developed airports through private-public-partnership (PPP) mode."


He said, while bullet trains would require completely new infrastructure, higher speed for existing trains will be achieved by upgrading the present network. The Minister said, hence, an effort will be made to increase the speed of trains to 160-200 kmph in select sectors so as to significantly reduce travel time between major cities. The Minister said, the identified sectors are:

i) Delhi-Agra ii) Delhi-Chandigarh iii) Delhi-Kanpur iv) Nagpur-Bilaspur v) Mysore-Bengaluru-Chennai vi) Mumbai-Goa vii) Mumbai-Ahmedabad viii) Chennai-Hyderabad and ix) Nagpur-Secunderabad.


Railway has also proposed harnessing solar energy by utilizing roof top spaces of stations, railway buildings and land, the minister added.


Mumbai to get 864 EMUs over next two years

Sadananda Gowda while focussing on suburban and metropolitan rail services announced that the Railways would introduce 864 additional state-of-the-art EMUs in Mumbai over the next two years. Study to explore possibility of enhancing existing railway network for better connectivity needs of Bangaluru will be taken up, he said.


Resource building

The railway minister, in order to augment resources of Railways, proposed schemes to facilitate procurement of parcel vans and rakes by private parties, special milk tanker trains, increased movement of fruits and vegetables in partnership with Warehousing Corporation and setting up Private Freight Terminals on PPP model.


Transparency in project, execution

The Railways would bring in more transparency in administration and execution of projects, Gowda said. "The status of ongoing projects will be available online, E-procurement will be made compulsory for procurement of higher amount and online registration of demands for wagons will be introduced within next two months," he added.


Railway University

In order to make Railway management more efficient, Gowda proposed setting up of Railway University for training in both technical and non-technical subjects besides establishing Innovations and Incubation Centre to harness the ideas generated from staff.


New trains, and services

The Railway Budget 2014-15 has proposed 58 new trains besides extending 11 existing trains. Provision has been made for 28 surveys for new lines and doubling or gauge conversion of lines. Higher funds have been proposed for ongoing projects in Northeast and remote areas. Special packaged trains on identified pilgrim circuits, two tourist trains and a special train featuring life and work of Swami Vivekananda has been proposed in the Budget.


Insure Smartly

There is a general resistance to buying financial products because there are too many of them, with features that are difficult to comprehend making it hard for the average person to choose. So, financial products end up being sold—not bought. Also, these are intangible products; hence, they do not arouse the same enthusiasm to spend on them. Those who are healthy, see expenditure on health insurance premium as a waste. Yet, when they face a surgery, they ask: “Can I buy mediclaim to cover it?” The more aware keep away because of the horror stories of insurers denying claims. But, it is a well-known fact that hospitalisation often results in the uninsured family falling into a debt trap. So, what should you be doing?

There is no perfect mediclaim product or insurer; only some are better than others. But there are ways to find a reasonable product that meets most of your requirements. Raj Pradhan presents these in our Cover Story which starts on page 26.

Sucheta, in her Crosshairs section, question the corporate social responsibility (CSR) rules of the UPA government that came on top of the massive expansion of government as a non-governmental organisation (NGO). Will the new Modi government change this? Further, she highlights how UTI Mutual Fund’s golden jubilee celebration is a travesty, since the organisation that came into being 50 years ago no longer exists because of the two bail-outs.

In her Different Strokes section, Sucheta points our how Reliance Industries is suddenly acting like a wounded tiger, slapping legal notices on all and sundry even as it has trouble having its way with the new government.

Will the maiden Budget of the Modi sarkar meet the market’s expectations? Moneylife Foundation would be hosting an exclusive session on 12 July 2014 to decode the Budget and how it would affect savers. If you miss the event, tune in to Moneylife TV  for a video recording of the session.


Worth reading by every banker

This is with regard to “Rooting for Right Regulation” by Sucheta Dalal. This is a good piece worth reading by every banker and surely by RBI (Reserve Bank of India) officers in service. I have a small suggestion. There could be implementation committees in each bank and in RBI; these committees could meet in-house once a week and provide inputs to either the ED (executive director) or the DG (deputy governor) in charge of operations about the implementation problems and successes and also suggest areas of inter-organisational coordination. I am not sure whether Ms Dalal would like to reflect on this (which is in operation in the Central Bank of Nigeria) and, if possible, adapt it to suit Indian circumstances.  
A Vasudevan (former ED, RBI), online comment

I have been reading Bapoo Malcolm’s “You be the Judge” articles. These are written in common man’s language which can be easily understood. I like Bapoo’s way of writing. I am a practising lawyer in a Pune court in civil cases. In 1994, I also had written a series on land laws in Arthamanthan (supplement of Sakal) for one year. After many years, I felt liking writing something on law. Once again, the “You be the Judge” articles are much appreciated.
Neelima Mysore, by email

This has reference to “The best letter to Editor” (Moneylife, dated 12 June 2014). Following the letter titled, “Falling Standards of SBH Branches”, I would go a step forward and say that “Falling Standards of SBI and its associate Banks.” State Bank of India (SBI) has its associate banks, like State Bank of Hyderabad, State Bank of Bikaner & Jaipur, State Bank of Travancore and State Bank of Mysore, etc.

Ever since all bank branches have been connected to each other by Internet, it is good enough to have one account in any branch of that bank, and you can operate it from any other branch where you do your bank operations, as if you are an accountholder of that branch.

SBI and its associate bank’s branches allow you to withdraw money by a bearer cheque, only by accountholder/s, from any branch, other than the home branch. They allow you to deposit the cheque in other branches, for your home branch account. Here, also, the cheque gets realised after a delay of one or two days. It allows demand draft service from branches, other than the home branch.

Other services, like cash deposit, NIFTY, RTGS, which any other bank allows to operate from other branches (other than home branch), SBI and its associate banks do not allow this facility from other branches. It is really a strange.

RBI should take this into account and issue instructions not only to SBI and its associate banks, but also to any other bank which does not allow cash deposit, NIFTY, RTGS, etc, from branches other than the home branch. RBI should make them provide such services with immediate effect.
Also, all bank branches should display a board at a prominent place in each and every branch, that “Accountholders of any branch of this bank can avail all the services, that they get at their home branch, except when network is down.”
Shirish S Shanbhag, by email

In Moneylife (Issue dated 26 June 2014), the Cover Story ‘Higher returns than your Bank deposits’, I find a few mistakes which need your attention:
(a) As per article, liquid funds can invest in papers of 91 days’ duration. No; as per the latest guidelines. it is 61 days.

(b) The cut-off time for withdrawal/ repurchase for liquid funds of 2pm is mentioned in the article. It is wrong. The cut-off time for withdrawal is 3pm, whereas for sale/ purchase transaction it is 2pm.
Raj Kumar, CFP, by email

Raj Pradhan replies: Thank you, the reader is correct. Other readers are requested to note these corrections.

On page 40 of the 26 June 2014 edition of Moneylife, the Street Beat team has reviewed the company, National Peroxide Limited (NPL). The financial data given would be all correct as also the information on NPL’s expansion of capacity for hydrogen peroxide. But just the crunching of numbers should not suffice to judge what the future holds. The real and current situation in the marketplace has not been looked at. There is a flood of cheap hydrogen peroxide coming in which also receives the special benefit on import duty bestowed on imports from certain neighbouring countries.

The production of hydrogen peroxide is by a continuous process which means that you cannot shut down the plant every now and then. Due to accumulating stocks of this inflammable liquid, bulk storage capacities soon get filled up. This results in prices crashing.

And this is what makes me sceptical of the limited analysis done by financial experts by just looking at figures in the past balance sheets. How do I know all this? For 11 years, till I retired in 1999, I was the general manager-marketing of NPL.
Sunil Gupta, by email

Thanks for sharing this with us. I just looked at the price trend. Guess what? In 1999, NPL’s stock price averaged Rs30. The current price is Rs620. That is 20 times in 16 years. Not too bad, for all the problems facing the company, would you say? Better than many of the 30 gems in the Sensex. By the way, blue-chip Hindustan Lever is up just 3 times over this period.

Well, “crunching numbers” and “limited analysis done by financial experts by just looking at figures in past balance sheets” actually works more often than not, for our readers who pay Rs30 a fortnight. In fact, it works surprisingly better than it does for equity fund investors who are charged 2% a year on assets to be managed by fund managers who are paid crores of rupees, not Rs30 a fortnight, and sifting through long reports, not such “limited analysis”. A paradox, perhaps, worth pondering? Thanks for the interest in Moneylife. — Editor

This is with regard to “The Black Money Trail” by Sucheta Dalal. This government’s move to set up a SIT to find and get the black money from outside is laudable. Hope they succeed ASAP.

We have to accept that we have a parallel economy of black money in circulation within the country which is also huge. We need to get this also back into the government treasury by any means. Both issues have to be tackled on a war footing and separately, if need be.

I am not putting the cart before the horse, but, the prime minister must also spell out what he plans to do when he gets even 5% of this huge treasure.

One of the many ways is to identify the areas in which this hoarded wealth can be invested for national development, by an amnesty and, without question, though a reasonable taxation, maybe a flat 30%-40% should be charged from the offender. If within the timeframe some illegal wealth is not brought back to India, when found, it should be confiscated. Where this is hoarded in bank accounts in foreign countries, it need to be frozen by diplomatic pressure, as a first step.
For black money within the country, we need to take stringent action and it is time the government demonetises high-value notes (Rs500/1000) when the amnesty period expires. This can be done when we are able to bring in polymer currency into circulation, about which we have been hearing for years now. This move would kill fake Indian currencies minted in Pakistan and circulated by greedy desh-drohis and stop counterfeiting activities also.

Not a small deal by any means, but we have to start somewhere and sometime.
Dr Anantha K Ramdas

This is with regard to “Themes: High-return Stock Ideas” by R Balakrishnan. A very good article.
Suiketu Shah

This is with regard to “Why revised version of Inflation Index Bond may fail again?” by Vivek Sharma. Inflation index bonds are intended to protect the purchasing power of the investor. But, in reality, they do not; a part of the interest would be appropriated by government as income-tax. Make it tax-free and inflation-free and see the rush.
Kanchan Kumar


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