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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.


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