So, the Modi-government presented its first ever rail-budget on 8th July, amidst hopes & expectations galore from the masses, the media & investors alike. And true to his style of functioning, Sadanand Gowda, under the tutelage of Indias main-man Modi himself, has managed to doll out something for everyones needs. Not for the congress, though.
Right on the outset itself , the Modi government has exuded vibes of being pro-capitalism, pro-business professionals, with an air of nonchalance in the way they go about handling opposition. The rail budget meted out to the masses is no different. Gone are the days, when the government would go all out, stooping to unfathomable levels of hoodwinking the public to paint a rosy picture before them, so as to maintain their voter-base. Heres a government, with a budget, that actually focuses on realizing the dreams of a billion souls.
CCTVs manning every station and providing a sense of comfort to harried women, janitors appointed to up-hold the cleanliness of the station-environment, an efficient & sufficient water supply reverse-osmosis treated water system, branded meals that can be ordered by SMS as well, an upgraded ticket-booking system that can handle 7000 users per minute, an increase of 250% from the current capacity of 2000, and ,the icing on the cake for youngsters and businessmen alike-free wi-fi on major stations and routes. If one wonders that these amenities are just par for the course, then along with a slew of other measures, like 58 new train services, high-speed trains between connecting major cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Agra, Kanpur, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Chandigarh, Chennai amongst others, 4000 additional women CRPFs, and thousands of complementary infrastructure like FOBs, bridges and manned rail-road crossings, then here comes the deal-breaker- the 60000-crore mega-budget all-pervading dream of every Indian who grew up admiring in awe at videos of trains whizzing past @300kph. Yes, The Bullet Train. First envisioned by the Lalu Prasad-led rail budget of 2007, the bullet train, which has had a bumpy ride so far on Indian shores when it comes to implementation, has been sought after by the government to ply its services along the 500-km Mumbai-Ahmedabad corridor. Its expected to reduce the travelling time herein from the current 6 hours to half.
However, this mega-fund project has its dubious critics too, as has the whole rail budget itself. It has allegedly not gone too well with certain parties and states, who feel they have been left out & ignored. People are also of the opinion, that instead of spending, rather wasting so much capital on a single project, the money could have well been used more prudently on ameliorating and upgrading currently existing infrastructure and introducing atleast 10-15 more projects so as to facilitate better intra-national connectivity. Fair nough view, considering a huge number of villages and towns are still lurking around the countryside with hardly any access to the outside world. And there is hardly a need to state the advantages of having a well-developed transport system in place, for any habitat.
However, a fine of the genius that Modi is, reveals the long-term plan he has of showcasing India as a global supremo. Economic development has, for long, been propounded and accepted by economists as being characterized by top-notch quality infrastructure, rather than random projects allocated just to increase the quantity on paper. Investor confidence, seemingly riding high on signs of recovery from the sluggish growth over the past few quarters, has just received a shot in the arm by provisions of permitting FDI in the rail sector (which albeit, requires a cabinet approval). Funds have also been planned to be raised by Public-Private-Partnerships, thereby, paving way for privatization in the sector.
However, this is a line that the NDA government has to tread along exercising caution. Capitalists-driven markets have indeed proven to be more efficient, as the US model suggests, but for a sector like railways, in India, utmost care should be taken to ensure that it doesnt end up becoming yet another breeding ground for epicurean profit-venturers immune to the socio-economic debility of the Indian masses. Railways, for long, has been serving India as its lifeline, and it should never be influenced by individuals in vie of the contrary.
All in all, the budget is a paradigm shift for the Indian economy. The intention behind it is pure, the challenges, humungous, but the initiative, hopeful. The NDA has got its act right so far, atleast on paper, but it remains to be seen if it can do the one thing previous governments failed in-implementing ideas.