Saturday, July 12, 2014
Why We Don’t Need A Railway Budget
I never was a great fan of Railway budget. Since the days I could muster enough grey cells in my brain to understand what budgeting and announcing them as well is all about, I find this railway budget grandiloquence is one big nonsense that we as a nation could be and should be better off without. No, I am not against preparing a budget to run a huge organization like the railways. That is the basic need of a mega organization like Indian Rail. There not only have to be a budget done but also have to have regular auditing to see if the finance is rightly directed to the areas of concern. What I am against is the grand standing that is tucked therein with every railway budget and the very nature of having a separate budget for the railways, separate and distinct from the national budget.
Starting from our nationalized banks to the PSUs that are in routine habit of keeping their balance sheet in red, no one seems to have a separate budget announcement. Even our civil aviation ministry’s budget is bundled along with our national budget. What is so different and out-of-the-ordinary with Railways that we have to announce a separate budget for it is just beyond me. You may argue, it is the sheer size of the railways that requires its own budget, and agreed, but then, isn’t the functioning of the railways is same as that of any professionally run organization? In most cases with other organizations, it is the board that decides the financial path for the coming fiscal and the budget is decided therein, looking at the roadmap. And to repeat again, their budget is within the ambit and guidelines of the general budget announced by the finance ministry. Is the board of the railways so incapable of deciding on their own on what and how they are planning their execution that we have to let lose our railway ministry to bail them out? If so, then the very utility of having a board to run the largest railways of the world appears to be a questionable affair.
Now here is the thing. I am a big supporter of the idea to have as minimal interference of our wretched political class in the running of our public sector units, which also includes Indian railways and Air-India. At best the ministries should be there to form the guidelines so that public interest in these public sector units remains intact. And that is precisely what is happening with every PSU and nationalized banks. Except Railways all other organizations decide their budget by their own. Ministry of heavy industries never decides the budget for a company say NALCO. By having one ministry or the other deciding for IR or AI, we allow other sundry interests to precede the interest of the said organizations and the people who use them. By allowing the railway ministry to allocate funds for IR, we actually leave a large door open for frivolous things to sneak in and displace the urgent and necessary requirements to be thrown out of the window. More dangerous is when we even allow the rail minister to do a theatrical presentation of the same to the entire nation. For a common man like me and you, the matter of interest is safety, hygiene and easy availability of a train on the route that we frequent. For an average Indian, railways is all about securing a confirmed ticket (even if that means paying the tout) somehow for one’s journey and in particular, the interest to know if some new trains been introduced on the route that we frequently travel. Beyond this, I doubt if anybody cares an ounce on what is going on with our railways or the big numbers that are churned out by the financial experts, which largely remains same as a Bhojpuri movie will remain for French nationals. But by nature we Indians love melodrama in everything. So there comes the advent of railway ministry to throw some tantrums and rhetoric to add some spice to the otherwise spice less affair of railways and their food.
By allowing a politician to announce, we invite populism, discretion, apathy and most important in Indian political context, vote bank to come into the picture. Take any rail budget and you will see a wide shade of populism, which is entirely unnecessary for the organization. For example, during 2013-2014 rail budget, PK Bansal announced the decision of IR to have fresh intake of 1.5 lakh employees in to its payroll. Now, even a kid knows that our railway is overtly populated with taskforce doing nothing. They are kind of shadow unemployment wherein, though they are employed but hardly add any value to the system. These already over employed staffs are a burden, not only to the railways but also to the tax payers. An optimistic estimate would put the numbers anywhere between 3-4 lakhs employees who are not required to be there at the first place. In a situation like this, what would you call the idea of 1.5 lakh fresh intake? Sheer populism and nothing else. But we can’t blame PK Bansal because being a politician he is supposed to add no value to whatsoever he touches but throw lots of populism instead. Looking at the upcoming general election, Bansal was supposed to announce measures to attract votes. Railways and public money may go to hell in the process. Ditto could be said about this year’s announcement of NDA government to have more trains connecting our Hindu religious cities. For once I know there is at least one long distance train either leaving or arriving in Jagannath Puri every two hours. For a sector like Pune-Bhubaneswar there is only one train for last 30 years and least I say, the amount of problem that commuters face to get a confirmed ticket in this route. Every year I expect a new train in this route but instead I see populist measures through new trains take precedence over this urgent, immediate and acute need. But we can’t blame Mr.Gowda because he is supposed to do theatrics. That is his job, not sensible measures. Similar was the idea during 2012-2013 budget where Congress announced trains connecting all popular Dargha cities of India or may be even till Mecca and beyond. Even secularism has to be uphold through populism in railways.
Populism is just part of my problem. The impact of such budget announcement on other things is highly unrequired. For instance, the political mudslinging that goes on for days after each budget. Every state seems to have a problem with every budget, thereby introduction of new theatrics to safeguard the regional votes. A public property is lurked by political mud within no time. Take for example the drama of TMC post this budget. As useless as one can be, Mamta Banarjee shows the audacity to even defy the central dictate through her pomposity. And no wonder, why she behaved like cocaine addicted rascal. To show all that she really cares for Bengal and people of Bengal wherein, if her actions of last 3 years are any pointer, she could be exactly opposite to that. When a CM publicly says that she would return back the train allocated to the state, it not only is in bad taste but also shows the ridiculousness of this lady. In a way she tries to provoke the people of her state to go against the rest of the nation, just because she didn’t get enough trains for her. Have you seen anything more shameless an act than this?
Her poison is duly passed on to her MPs in parliament. The ruckus that went around parliament on the rail budget day is one shameful thing to even describe. We saw TMC MPs rushing out (couple of them even did spectacular high jumps) of parliament screaming and shouting against the supposed misbehavior against their women MPs by BJP members. Wasn’t that pure drama to uphold the farce their party supremo was enacting back in Kolkatta? And who is the woman MP that alleged that BJP members threaten them to disrobe and misbehaved with all foul avowals? Yes a certain Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar; the same woman who once referred the infamous Park Street rape as a case of Client-Woman relationship going sour. The members of the party whose MP Tapas pal openly says that he will send his men to rape CPM women are now rushing out of the parliament and accuse others of misbehaving their women representatives. They could because they have to fall in line with the drama of their party chief who inturn has to do what she did because she had to show that she didn’t like the rail budget. I mean why would one want to give jokers like Mamta or Maya readily available chances to enact their drama? Don’t we have enough drama queens already? I am sure such dramas wouldn’t be there had there been no rail budget nonsense in parliament.
Look at our stock markets even. It is a fact that you can’t please everyone all at the same time. So the dissatisfied lot started selling their stocks which resulted in panic among the small investors in seeing red. The small investors started to trim off their portfolio out of anxiety and there you go – a straight 500 point loss in our sensex for no credible reason. Who will be responsible for all the money lost in just couple of hours? Would there been a similar impact, had there been no rail budget? Well, my guess is as good as any others. So what we achieved at the end of the day – a whole lot of drama and some huge loss of investor money. Does it anyway sound logical to have any such continuation of this nonsense henceforth? Well, not to me at least.