At the maiden Budget speech, which many termed as the first litmus test for the Modi government, Sadananda Gowda came across as someone who is ready to embark on a much-needed overhaul of the Indian Railways towards modernity. And the biggest proof of this is the sense that he is finally ready to see the Railways as not just an infrastructure issue but also a service industry. We had suggested that the Railways needed a change not just in physical capital, but also in social capital to turn it around, which is something the government seems to be taking note of as well.
Here are the major highlights that make it a consumer-friendly Budget:
1. Sufficient water supply and toilets, escalators and lifts, battery-operated cars at all stations.
2. Online booking facilities for railway retiring rooms.
3. E-ticketing platforms to be improved to the level that 7,000 tickets can be booked in a minute, over and above the 2000 tickets now.
4. Catering has been a major concern. Ready-to-eat meals of reputed brands will be introduced in trains and a system of third-party audit would keep a check on the food served.
5. Severe action against contractors, including cancelation of contracts, in case of major complaints related to hygiene.
6. The aim would be to build food courts at all stations. Pilot project to begin soon.
7. Exceptional emphasis has been given to cleanliness at the stations and in trains. Increase in Budget allocation by 40% over last year's Budget.
8. CCTV cameras and all-India helplines to be introduced to maintain cleanliness.
9. Introduction of RO drinking water in trains and at stations (with help from corporates and NGOs)
10. Automated ticket services to be tried out at some stations before expanding it.
11. Office on wheels: For business travellers, office on wheels and wi-fi support in select trains.
12. The government will recruit 4000 women constables and 17000 male officers to improve safety at train stations.
13. Enough focus has been given on innovation with the minister saying a team will take suggestions from all railway employees for new ideas and try to implement them. If the ideas become successful, the wards would be suitably compensated.
14. The government would also allow internships for engineering and management students to improve innovations and services.
15. Food courts will be introduced in all stations, including regional cuisines.
16. Automatic closing doors as pilot projects.
17. Bio-toilets in trains to mitigate direct discharge of human waste on tracks and platform.
18. Battery operated cars at stations to help differently-abled people.
19. Mechanised laundry to ensure quality of blankets and other furnishings is provided to AC passengers.
20. Railways to go paperless in 5 years; stations to provide digital reservation charts.