When Sadanand Gowda began reading his maiden Railway Budget, his aim to declare an all out war against the past budgets and the practice of announcing projects that were never completed was clear. Gowda said that over the last decade, almost 100 projects had been announced in the Budgets and despite allocating Rs 60,000 crore none of them were completed. In the last 30 years, almost 359 projects have not been completed. This holds a mirror to the relevance of the Budget and how seriously the previous governments have taken it.
So Gowda went ahead and said that given the poor condition of government resources, he would not announce too many new projects. His aim would be to complete the existing ones. Gowda's budget focused on safety and services to be provided to passengers apart from a clear invitation to private players to invest in the Railways.
But the problem is, this Railway Budget was only about his short-term and long-term intentions or rather vision for the Railways. In the short-term, he wants a more tach-savvy, clean and commuter-friendly Railways that can provide professional services. Though Gowda did not raise railway fares further, he made it clear that the recent hike would add just Rs 8,000 crore to his coffers, and that he would need more money. So he has kept the door open for hiking fares further later, though this could be a politically-sensitive decision. But he had no plan to offer about how he would achieve these goals.
For example, he gave us no break up of the cost of the different plans and how he could phase them out. For many ideas, like in case of food courts and automated ticketing machines, he said pilot projects would be carried out. Again, no idea of how much time the completion of these projects could take. For the upgradation of IRCTC as well, he gave no target time.
He mentioned cleanliness was a big concern due to the sheer size of the operation of the Indian Railways, but apart from monitoring through CCTV cameras, there is no roadmap. Even critical issues like restructuring the board have not come in with constructive plans.
For providing escalators, lifts, RO drinking water and a few other plans, the government called upon NGOs and corporates to come forward to establish and maintain them. If the government does not get enough offers, will it shell out money to complete these tasks itself? Again no answer.
Gowda's Railway Budget gives us a picture of the Indian Railways that is lucrative for sure. But we cannot be sure if, like most of his predecessors, Gowda is also bluffing to the people about keeping these promises.