Indian Railways on a Ruinous Path

Press Statement

The Polit Bureau of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has issued the following statement:

Indian Railways on a Ruinous Path

The CPI (M) considers the Railway Budget presented in parliament today as a fraudulent exercise aimed at window dressing the pathetic state of Railway finances and announcing sundry projects, which will never take off the ground. The Railways is actually facing a financial crisis. There is no increase in freight earnings this year despite the GDP growing at over 8%. The safety record is abysmal with a spate of accidents leading to deaths of over two hundred people in the past one year. Passenger amenities like food and cleanliness have deteriorated sharply, with punctuality hitting a new low.

The operating ratio of 92.1 mentioned in the Budget for 2010-11 is not a credible estimate and conceals the much higher actual operating ratio. This has been done by playing with the figures. The freight loading target this year had to be lowered by the Railway Ministry by 20 million tons (as admitted by the Railway Minister in her speech), which exposes the inefficiency of Railway operations. Despite this, the freight earnings have been retained at the same level of last year in the Budget. This results in a higher level of traffic receipts than what will actually accrue. Moreover, dividend liability committed for the year 2010-11 fell short by Rs. 1700 crore. All this has been done to artificially inflate the operating ratio, raising questions about the credibility of the entire accounting process.

The Budget claims an increase in the annual Plan Outlay to Rs. 57630 crore in 2011-12 from Rs. 40314.93 spent in 2010-11. It is noteworthy, that bulk of this is to be financed through increased funds from the union budget (Gross Budgetary Support) totaling Rs. 20000 crore (up from Rs. 15800 crore last year) and market borrowings of Rs. 20500 crore by the IRFC (up from Rs. 10100 crore last year). On the other hand, investment from Railways internal resources are budgeted to go down by Rs. 300 crore compared to last year. This clearly shows that Railways own resources are going to deteriorate further even as it draws more resources from the general budget and increase its indebtedness, ruining its financial health further in the long-term.

The Railway Budget of 2010 had announced numerous projects, from world class stations, to railway coach and loco factories, wagon and axle units, power plants, auto hubs, sports complexes, hospitals and so on. It is clear from Budget 2011, that these announcements were mere gimmicks which have either been recycled this year or conveniently forgotten. Announcements of projects without any specific plan outlay or time schedule amounts to a farce. Railway Budget 2011 is replete with such farcical announcements at the cost of the credibility of an institution like the Indian Railways. The 6 high speed passenger corridors announced in 2010 Budget and forgotten this year is a prime example.

The cavalier manner in which the Railway Minister has claimed an improved performance in railway safety through statistical jugglery, despite the death of 216 persons in railway accidents over the past one year, reflects her lack of concern for the lives of ordinary people. Her promise to install anti-collision devices (ACDs) in three railway zones in 2009 Budget is yet to be realised. And yet she has promised to extend the ACDs to another 4 railway zones. There is no mention of the Train Protection Warning System (TPWS) in this Budget, whose implementation was promised last year!

Rather than explaining her inaction in the filling of 1.75 lakh Group C and D posts in railways and 13000 posts in RPF, which have been lying vacant for the past many years, the Railway minister has made another empty promise. In fact, total employee strength of the Indian Railways has come down by 24600 from March 2009 to March 2010, totaling 1361519 as per the Indian Railways Annual report 2009-10 (not 14 lakhs as repeatedly claimed by the Railway Minister).

It is clear that under the stewardship of the Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee, Indian Railways is on a ruinous path. Is the Prime Minister allowing this to happen due to "compulsions of coalition politics"?

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