The Polit Bureau of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has issued the following statement:
The Railway Budget for 2008-09 has some positive features. The reduction in passenger fares is a welcome step. In a situation where people are suffering from all-round price rise the reduction in passenger fares provides some relief. However, the reduction in second class fares upto Rs. 50/- by Re. 1 is only tokenism. Freight rates for petrol and diesel have been reduced by around 5 per cent, which is a correct step. The appointment of licensed porters as gangmen and other Group D posts announced in the Railway Budget is a positive step. But more initiatives should have been taken to fill up the vacancies in Railways, which amount to over 1.5 lakhs and also absorb the contract workers working in various projects.
The number of new trains announced in the Railway Budget is more than last year’s but the number of route extensions is less. However, some States have faced discrimination, especially the Northeastern States and Jammu & Kashmir, which is bound to give rise to discontent. The targets set for 2008-09 for new lines (350 kms) and gauge conversion (2150 kms), doubling (1000 kms) and electrification (no target announced) are too low given the substantial financial resources available and reflects the continuing delay in project planning and implementation. The outlays and targets set for enhancing safety and security in Railways have not matched the claims made in the Railway Minister’s speech. There is no room for complacency on this count given the still high number of railway accidents and railways becoming a target of terrorist attacks. The enhanced production targets for locos and wagons are welcome, but purchase orders for these have to be evenly distributed among the public sector wagon and loco manufacturing units based in different States.
The Railway Budget for 2008-09 has to be seen the in the light of a creditable rise in the cash surplus of the Indian Railways to Rs. 25000 crore in 2007-08 and an improvement in the operating ratio to 76%. This provided the Railway Minister with the opportunity to usher in a massive expansion of railway infrastructure, improvement in the railway services, safety and security and provide relief to railway passengers and pass on some of the benefits of increased revenues to the railway workers. While the attempts to utilize these opportunities have been half-hearted at best, the Railway Minister has continued with the disturbing drive towards privatization of container trains and depots, outsourcing of railway services and privatization of railway property in the name of Private-Public Partnerships (PPP).
The Railway Budget envisages future expansion of container trains and depots mainly in the private sector, with the number of private container trains increasing from 46 to 50-55 and 40 new privately controlled container depots to be built in the coming year. The increase in public investment in container trains and depots is insignificant. Clearly, the approach is to hand over the profitable container business to the private corporate sector. Huge concessions to the private sector are also envisaged in the Railway Budget. A proposal to hand over major railway stations in New Delhi, Mumbai, Patna and Secunderabad to private players for development has been made in the Budget. Private players are also going to be involved in setting up diesel and electric locomotive and coach factories. Outsourcing and privatization of on-board cleaning in super-fast mail and express trains has also been announced. The CPI (M) is opposed to these privatisation measures announced in the Railway Budget and demands that they be not taken forward.