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KAMAL MITRA CHENOY | 1 MARCH, 2015

Indian Railways: Snake Charmers Budget

Swacch rail budget?


NEW DELHI: Making budgets now require great dexterity and even sleight of hand. Often the media doesn't have the capacity or patience to analyse budgets as long as there is privatisation, no significant increase in rail tariffs and controlled freight charges. The latest

The Railways Budget holds to this framework, and the media is happy. But this is a deficit budget. Apart from the ₹1 lakh crore investment planned but hazily described, there is also ₹40,000 crore support from the general budget. Though there is a Swacch Rail Initiative, it only exposes Suresh Prabhu's understanding of 'Swacch.' It is well known that the removal of human waste from the rails where there are relatively few aqua toilets is still done by humans and that manual scavenging, is a continuing practice despite Gandhi's unrelenting opposition to this filthy practice. It is inconceivable that the Railway Minister did not know. But this inhuman practice continues. Not much corporate support on this issue.

There is general happiness that fares are not up. But this is solely due to the international decline in fuel prices. In his mandatory bow to privatisation, the Minister suggested privatisation of railway platforms. This would throw small and medium vendors out with the incoming large vendors charging higher prices using their monopoly position. More seriously there is precious little said about about the sourcing of joint ventures, the role of the public sector, the role of FDI which is scarcely required for manufacture of rolling stock but would displace the public sector. Interestingly, details about this is scarce. However, the knee jerk action is to privatise showcased here, as in all budgets. The fact that public sector products garner profits for the public weal, unlike the private sector which is quite prepared to cheat as recent events have shown, is lost in the neoliberal discourse.

But any comparison by the media, including the financial press, would show, is that the stated engine of growth is private investment, Indian and foreign. Correspondingly, the fruits of Indian labour go to foreign concerns, their Indian collaborators, and big Indian capital. PM Modi's slogan "Make in India" is so much propaganda with this continued and growing penetration of foreign capital. The lack of important details in the Railways Budget is thus not an accident. Of course, the Minister can't have details for projects just planned and yet to be executed. But wi-fi and mobile chargers are scarcely the most important scientific/technical additions to a modern train. The Minister claims he has brought about depoliticalisation of the Railways. How? Is privatising the railways and the public sector not a political choice? But the media has made its choice. One wonders how many corporate honchos travel in trains any way.

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