The ministry of railways, which is facing flak from most quarters for the steep fare hike, has invited suggestions from citizens on the railway budget that is scheduled to be announced on July 7.
The move appears to be an attempt to deflect the ire of travellers over the more than 14 per cent hike declared very suddenly last week. But railway officials in Mumbai said the invitation was an honest admission by the ministry that it had run out of out-of-the-box ideas, which it requires to revive itself.
"Except the initiative to run premium trains with fluctuating fares, there have been no great ideas to improve functioning," said a senior railway official.
Officials say that the fare hike is only half the battle won on shrinking finances. The other half is to increase efficiency. "Railway projects have been delayed, commercial development of land has not taken off and the units that make coaches and other equipment do not have orders," an official pointed out. "The fare hike will bring in some money to help get these projects off the ground. But in the long run only a lean and efficient system will be able to provide the kind of comfort that commuters desire and deserve."
There are examples in Mumbai of the projects that are floundering. The Churchgate-Virar and CST-Panvel elevated corridors which were to have premium, air-conditioned trains have virtually been shelved. The proposed air-conditioned local on the Western Railway has also been delayed repeatedly.
A plan to commercially develop a huge railway land parcel adjoining Thane station is stuck, with the railways and the state government unable to come to an agreement on the floor space index and other aspects. The plan to sell a plot in Bandra has also failed.
"The railway budget should give the railways enough money to complete game-changing projects like the elevated corridors, AC trains, and if it means downsizing departments to save on massive salary bills, so be it. Otherwise, commuters will feel cheated when they have to pay more for the same miserable commute," said Manish Chaturvedi, a Bhandup resident.
Submit your suggestions
To send your suggestions on the railway budget and what you would like to see the railways do on train travel, log on to www.indianrailways.gov.in and submit your suggestions at the link titled 'Submit your suggestions for Rail Budget'.