July 11, 2019
Sudip Bandyopadhyay speaks on the Demands for Grants for Ministry of Railways
The budgetary allocation for the Indian Railways is Rs 65,837 crore and capital expenditure is Rs 1.60 lakh crore. The Finance Minister in her speech has given a dream that Rs 50 lakh crore between 2018 and 2030 and proposed the usage of the PPP model for faster development and delivery of passenger freight services for railway projects to boost connectivity. Indian Railways is moving towards privatisation – that is what this Budget indicates.
Being the Chairman of the Railway Standing Committee, I feel that it is not the proper etiquette to speak on the Budget because I know many of the information from my meetings with railway board chairpersons. But a few issues certainly need to be raised and need to be answered by the Minister, which we would place in our Standing Committee reports, and which I must say are never responded to.
As given in the budgetary plan outlay and in the non-plan outlay, the estimated salary expenditure of the railway employees goes up to Rs 86,554.31 crore. So non-plan expenditure takes the major portion of the plan outlay of the Railway Budget. What I propose to know that, since you have mentioned world-class railway stations, how many railway stations are being constructed under the project for building world-class railway stations? I am giving the answer – it is a maximum of four to five in the whole country, and of course one is in Gujarat, in Surat to be specific. There has been enough publicity about world-class railway stations but in reality this project is not moving fast enough.
In a report I submitted, titled ‘Tourism, Promotion and Pilgrim Circuit’, we had mentioned that the Railways can make circuits connecting place of interest to tourism. But no comprehensive response has come from the Railways – just one or two circuits have been accepted.
Similarly, through another report, the IRCTC has been advised to take care of the catering service in trains. Many people who undertake long journeys by trains look forward to having good-quality food as part of their enjoyment of the journey. But the quality of food delivered to the passengers is often not acceptable at all. One of my colleagues told me that eggs prepared in the previous night are delivered in the next day’s train, and thus become spoilt. The IRCTC has said that their base kitchens will be kept neat and clean and the food will be prepared in the proper way but in reality that is not happening.
A few royal trains operate in the country, which are mainly for foreigners. They are Palace on Wheels, Maharaja Express, Golden Chariot, Royal Rajasthan on Wheels and Deccan Odyssey. They are all with more than five star facilities, and the tickets have to be purchased against payment of dollars. The point of concern though is that their occupancy rate has come down to below 30 per cent. Only vacant trains are moving. However, through the report, I have submitted a list categorically mentioning the railway officials who have used these trains on a complementary basis for travelling. If the Minister wants, I can submit the report. Sir, these superb quality railway train packages are of seven to eight days’ duration. I will suggest that the minister should reduce the trips to three or four days, instead of seven to eight days.
Sir, out of 8,495 A1 category railway stations there are only 559 railways stations with proper retiring rooms. Sir, do you know there are 1,47,523 railway bridges in the country and out of these there are railway bridges which have crossed 100 years? So, I want to know how many bridges are secured and safe for the passengers? There are three types of bridges which are mentioned –
(i) important bridges which are 700
(ii) major bridges which are 12045
(iii) minor bridges which are 1,34,738.
However, these minor bridges are now taken for granted as bridges these are considered as small road bridges. Sir, there was a Safety Review Committee under the chairmanship of Dr Anil Kakodkar that was in 2012, as I have mentioned in my committee report. He made many recommendations, but those are not being accepted up to the desired level. I want to know how many recommendations by the Kakodkar Committee, which was setup in 2012, have been accepted by the government. Sir, we should focus on zero level accident in railway journeys.
Sir, I would like to talk about the vacancies in Indian Railways. You know there is a group that looks after the railway lines even at night and they are most important personnel in the Department of Railways. They maybe gangmen by designation fourth grade in status, but they maintain the railway lines. And vacancies for this status has reached more than 2 lakh. The shortage of drivers is also there. Because of shortage, the existing drivers are being overloaded with the jobs and are becoming tired very fast. Sir, you will notice most of the railway accidents happen in between 3 am to 5 am because the drivers feel sleepy as they are being overloaded with work. I want to ask the government whether they are well capable with the strength of railway drivers, which is directly connected with the safety and security of the passengers, and when will they fill all the vacancies which are in Indian Railways including hiring more gangmen?
Sir, North East Railways should progress equally, few minutes back Mr Gaurav Gogoi was speaking; he was a member of my Railway Standing Committee. North-East Railway projects have been discussed but no progress has been seen till now.
I also want to know the operating ratio of Indian Railways as its important. Sir, I think the minister in a statement said my motto is that passengers will get a world class experience with speed safety and service. These are not at all visible at the moment. Sir, more attention should be given to complete dedicated freight corridor.
Sir, I also must tell you that the bullet train proposal, it is not possible in India. It is totally bogus as the bullet train cannot run on Indian soil. This can be called high speed trains. Bullet trains have a total separate structure. We have heard of bullet trains of Japan but now we are told from Ahmedabad to Mumbai bullet trains are going to be inaugurated.
This is not correct, high speed trains are possible to run in the country, but never bullet trains. It is a hoax and a false assurance has been given to the common people.
Passenger amenities. Huge allegations have come up. Even train routes, which are twelve to sixteen hours long, do not have is no pantry car on board. These are there on trains which cover journeys of more than twenty four hours or on long distance trains like Shatabdi Express, Rajdhani Express. But trains covering a journey of twelve to sixteen hours are not having pantry cars; the government should take care of this. Sir, I propose that these kitchens should remain clean.
Safety, security, passenger stability, well organised railway stations, cleanliness, food quality, condition of the railway compartments should be maintained, including wifi and CCTV facilities should be provided also. Success of the railways depend on the work culture of the employees. So, this side also should be looked into because it has such a huge number of employees, one of the largest in the world. The work culture is more important for Indian Railways to run and operate smoothly.
Sir twenty million passengers travel per day, which Kanimozhi was talking about in the House. It is very serious, with 13,330 passenger trains and holds 1,000 million tons of freight and 9,212 freight trains over 67,368 route km. It is a very serious subject and it should be taken care of, Sir.
Sir, the railways have 8,500 railway stations with category A B C D E F, considering its passenger traffic at the stations. Sir, without proper and effective work culture, they cannot run smoothly with the satisfaction of the people. Let us make the train journey a journey of joy not a journey of fear. We should not forget that railways in the life line of our country and economy also.
The decision of withdrawing the Railway budget, to be read and discussed separately, not with the General Budget, didn’t help the railways in any way. Sir Mamata Banerjee’s name was raised here. When she was the Railway Minister not one rupee of fare was raised at any stage. Railway tickets were given to the BPL sections, with a Rs 15 monthly ticket.
In Kolkata, Sir, the East-West Metro project is not being completed. The Railway Budget has not allocated enough funds for the railway coach factory; only Rs 30 lakh, when it is a proposal of Rs 760 crore. Even Kanimozhi was saying that against Rs 800 crore project, only Rs 10 lakh was given. Here also the same thing has been done. For a Rs 760 crore project, they have allotted only Rs 10 lakh. Similarly expertise training and infrastructure setup centres were proposed at Dankuni, Malda, Beliaghata Track Training – all have only been allotted Rs 5 lakh.
So I think that there is a step-motherly attitude in the Railway Budget towards Bengal. The eastern regions are always the sufferers of regional imbalances. Here it is being reflected in the same way. South India as well will be added to this. I will hope that the Railway Ministry will take all positives steps to see that the whole country is distributed with equal mentality and the proposals which will be tabled from the Standing Committee, for the consideration of the Railway Ministry, have to be implemented.
Thank you, Sir.