Rajya Sabha

July 22, 2014

Derek O’Brien speaks on the Railway Budget 2014 | Transcript

Derek O’Brien speaks on the Railway Budget 2014 | Transcript

Sir, let me go back 120 years. This is a story of an Assistant Engineer, who worked on what was the Bengal-Nagpur Railway, which later became the South Eastern Railway, somewhere between Chakradharpur and Bilaspur. This Assistant Engineer who worked in the Indian Railways had a son who dutifully, after that, joined the Indian Railways sometime in the early 1920s. He has later rose to the rank of PWI in the Railways. This is the second generation. Then this PWI in the Railways had a third generation. He had seven sons and three daughters. Of the seven sons, six joined the Indian Railways as part of the Indian Railway family and out of the three daughters, one jamaai also joined the Indian Railways. Currently, from the same family lineage, there are two who are working on the Indian Railways. Sir, that is why what the Minister said or didn’t say at the beginning of his speech has caused me much pain and concern. It doesn’t matter who this family was. Sir, you walked in five minutes late and we, in very good spirit, accepted your heartfelt apology. In your reply, Sir, after I told you the story, maybe, you would like in your wisdom and humility to consider an apology because I need to quote from your Budget speech, page 3, para 12, “We have a total track length of 1.6 lakh km, 63,000 coaches, 2.4 lakh wagons and 13.1 lakh employees.”

Sir, one of your very enthusiastic and learned honorable members, the first person who spoke from the BJP, congratulated you for all the great work you have done and what you learnt in 45 days and no one has done anything in the last 60 years. You delivered a historic opening line of your budget.

I have gone through last 30 years’ Budgets. This is the first time, and it is historic, that the Railway Mantri has not put in one word -besides the number of employees – to thank the railway family. This is a family of 13.1 lakh employees; this is the family which is the same size as the family of the armed forces with 13 fraction employees. This is the family with 13 lakh pensioners; the armed forces have 25 lakhs pensioners. This is the family who doesn’t sleep at night. Just like the army and its jawans, the brave soldiers don’t sleep at night. I would like to believe that the railway family deserves two simple words: Thank you from the Rail Mantri.

Sir you will pardon me that I have got some emotional in my opening because the story which I was telling you about the four generations is the story of my mother’s family. I had the good fortune about three or four years ago before I came to Parliament when the then hon. Rail Minister Mamata Banerjee asked me to take on the role as the Chairman of the Passenger Services Committee, which I had joined. Now, Sir, through you let me share some thoughts, some views, some constructive criticisms and the way forward, because I believe there is a chance to take this forward – one, in your reply and two, is in the next budget which you will present a few months from now.

Let us come to my first point today – passenger fares at Rs 30,000 crore negative. First, the Trinamool Congress disputes this figure of Rs 30,000 crore. Our belief is that the figure is Rs 7000-8000 crore. You have spoken a lot of things in Budget about reforms and the way forward. Very good. If you are really serious about doing some serious reforms, look at those passenger fare distribution cost. Let me take you back to 1921 where Akaweth Committee. I don’t know who Mr Akaweth was, but there was an Akaweth committee set up in 1921 and four years later, on the recommendations of Akewath Committee in 1925 the first railway budget was presented.

Sir, it has been 90 years and the way passenger fares are calculated and the heads are the same as those which were proposed by the late and genius Mr Akewath, 90 years ago. If you are serious about looking at that system I suggest you to look at the Akewath Committee. The first thing you might tell me is that why didn’t you look at the Akewath Committee when Mamata Di was the railway minister, when a lot of work was done. May be the spirit was strong but the flesh was weak and other development took prominence over that.

Sir, 95% of the fare which you have been talking about, has nothing to do with Shatabdi and Duronto and Rajdhani. 95% is the base fare. In your speech, Sir, and before that we saw the member of BJP, you told us about the China. We have heard lots about China. Just two quick points on China: one China does not touch the base fares; China hits you at the higher fare. The second point about China is that the government funds the big project.

Sir, if you relook at those numbers there is no reason a) to push those passengers’ fares up before the budget b) to put it up by fourteen fraction percent and c) finding a reason to put the fare up again may be in the next six months or eight months. We do not buy the argument that if you want better immunities and if you want better safety, you have to pay more. Who has to pay more? Our belief is that the two are not linked to each other. That’s on the passengers’ fares.

Sir, I would again like to quote from your budget because by our own admission, Mr Chairman Sir, the Rail Mantri Ji seems to be in a dilemma, these are his not mine: “he dilemma is choosing between commercial viabilities and social viabilities”. Sir, there is no dilemma. As far as the Trinomool Congress is concerned there is absolutely no dilemma. Social viability comes first. Commercial viability second. There have been enough rail budgets presented on this issue. If you are in dilemma, well please, try in next few months to get out of this dilemma. The first speaker from the BJP in this House and the Railway Minister in that House said my predecessors fell prey to the ‘Nasha’ of claps in the House when they announced these projects. And throughout the speech, not much credit given to the predecessors.

The hon. Leader of Opposition, Gulam Nabi Azad Ji when he spoke, he also gave you a few examples of how these ideas were either robbed or pinched or as the less generous would say copy-pasted. I disagree humbly with the Leader of Opposition in this part of his speech because when he was referring to the copy paste he meant the 2013 budget. True, but I want to go one step back from the Leader of Opposition. If the NDA government copy pasted the 2013 Budget, where did 2013 Budget copy-paste from? So these are copy-pastes of a copy-paste.

I want to give you few examples from where the original copy-paste has came from. Just five or six very quick examples. I quote from your budget, Sir, you talked about recruiting 17000 RPF, 4000 female RPF. Now I quote from 2010: “12 companies of women personnel to be named ‘Mahila Vahini’. 16,000 ex-servicemen to be deployed in the force.” Now a certain lady said this in her Budget speech in 2009-2010. Fair enough. If you like the idea, by all means copy it. But at least, sir, give the credit when it is due. Again, Sir, “Railways propose to introduce modern trolleys at all the important stations.” Now I’m not quoting 2014, I’m quoting from 2010.

You talked about these, but these are already in existence at stations. Let’s talk about the third one, I’ve got five/six examples. “Improved linen management to bring about quality of washing through mechanized automated laundries.” Year 2010. Now listen to 2014, this is paraphrasing like taught at a school: “Increased mechanized laundry in order to improve quality of bed rolls provided at AC coaches.” May be in 2009-10 there were only talking about pillow cases and now you are talking about bed rolls.

Regarding RO drinking water, it was mentioned in 2010-11 implemented in four or five places; the railway officers could update you sir.

Sir, ‘Mushkil Aasan’ is the brand name given in 2009-2010 to the automated vending machines from which you are selling tickets. In your budget speech, sir, you have talked about the next generations e-ticketing systems, started already from 2009-10.

Cleanliness outsourcing: here you did not refer to any Budget speeches. You referred to the Vision 2020 document. Sir, Eureka Forbes, to the best of my knowledge, have already been outsourced to do a lot of this cleanliness outsourcing. Domestic tourism: it’s a same story, repeat of 2010-11.

And bullet train. It was mentioned in the Vision 2020 Document which was UPA II project under Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee. Even though it was mentioned in the Vision 2020 document, why was it not spoken about after that? What was the logic? It is the same Vision 2020 document which you have generously copy pasted in your current speech.

Six freight corridors were also mentioned. You kept the freight corridor and you kept the bullet train. Why was the bullet train not mentioned in five years? I hope in next few minute I will tell you why.

One, the cost to build the bullet train approximately can be between Rs 150 to 200 crore per kilometer and the cost to build a dedicated freight corridor – and I am not a railway expert, so I’m giving you a loose figure – it could be anywhere between Rs 10-15 crore. Because of the huge cost differences, the idea of a bullet train is great, but this is an idea whose time has come? Other speakers before me have also mentioned about the prohibited costs of bullet train.

Sir, having generous digs at former railway minister dismissing all they have done and saying that every railway budget has been populism before this and this one is not. Fine, if you don’t want to populism don’t do populism. Then why introduce 58 new trains, may I ask you Sir? 58 new trains will require 1,000 new wagons, which is the total capacity of the integrated coach factory in Chennai. Plus you have to replace all your existing old wagons. So don’t tell us that you don’t want populism. Then slip all these in.

Sir, I think it is my duty here to recap some of big the contributions which have been made by former railway ministers. It was Sri Gopalswamy Iyenger who introduced the concept – and I am not playing politics here… we need we appreciate what has been done in the past – of railway zones. If it wasn’t for Sri Madhu Dandawate ji perhaps we still had sleepers which didn’t have a cushion. It was Madhavrao Scindia ji who had taken IT as a serious player and integrated it in the Indian Railways. Sri Nitish Kumar introduced the Tatkal Scheme and also introduced Sampark Kranti Express and that was another brand. Laluji introduced Garib Rath, Mamata Banerjee gave the Vision2020 document, Duronto Express, Izzat Passes. These Railway Ministers in the past have also created brands across parties. Laluji created Garib Rath which was a cheaper version of the Rajdhani. After Rajdhani and Shatabdi, Duronto perhaps is a big idea… these are the big ideas. Tell us in your budget, which is one your big idea. The bullet train will take many years to become a reality.

My Hindi is very bad… I am going for Hindi tuition… trying to improve but at least I am good enough to learn 4 words: Sabke Sath Sabka Vikas. I want to give you some examples of how this has remained a slogan, let me give you two examples… these have to to go into the Guinness Book of world records… Adra… remember I told you the story of Adra in the beginning… Adra Coach Factory is in Bengal and Kharagpur Coach Factory is in Bengal. The total budget for the Adra Coach Factory is Rs 176 crore and for Kharagpur is Rs 100 crore. Guess how much our very generous Rail Minister has allocated to these two projects? Maybe if he would have allocated Rs 10 crore, we would have said not bad… it would take 10 years to build. May be Rs 5 crore, we would have been happy. May be Rs1 crore… we wouldn’t have been smiling. May be Rs one lakh… we would have been shattered… but Rs 1000 rupees Sir? Rs 1000 rupees for a 176 crore project

Adra coach factory ekta 176 koti takar project, apni allocate korechhen 1000 taka… apnake ami dhonnyobad janachhi… Kharagpur Wagon factory 100 koti takar project… apni allocate korechhen 1000 taka… Bangla ki vul korechhe… Bangla ki BJP ke vote dayeni… 15% 16% vote diyechhe… 2 to MP hoyechhe, amader 34 ta hoyechhe… Seriously Dada… Bangla kintu apna der theke bhikkhe chaye na. Aaro boli apnake… aaro boli…

Kolkata Metro is the only Metro run by the Indian railways, and the first one in India. Kolkata Metror dorkar 10,000 koti taka aar apni diyechhen 500 koti… Toy train in Darjeeling is an UN heritage site. Apni eta dekhun ki bhabe toy train ke bhalo bhabe sahajyo kora jaye… Kolkata is not even included in the Diamond Quadrangle project.

I indulge the patience of my colleagues here. And I may not be shy about this because I have a list of projects to read where the outlay… total cost of the project is Rs 200-500 crore. Eigulo apnader boli: circular rail expansion dorkar 281 koti taka apnara diyechhen 2 koti, Lokhikanto-Namkhana dorkar 400 koti diyechen 1 koti, Tarakeshwar-Bishunupur dorkar 900 koti, diyechhen 5 koti. Eita shunun… Tarakeshwar Mogra Furfura 350 koti dorkar, apni diyechhen 20 lakh… Hasnabad- Himalganj dorkar 250 koti, diyechhen 50 lakh eibhabe lomba list Howrah, Digha Jwaleshwar , Tomluk to Digha..Badula to Lalgarh…Diamond Harbour Line upgradation, canning Line upgradation….

I am sure Mantriji has seen this and in his wisdom has given us this pitiful allocation to Bengal. Sir, let me move on to another very fascinating part of this subject which is rail…which is freight… 20 years ago 60% of all freight which moved in India was moved by Rail. Tthat 60% figure has come down to 31%. Freight is growing at 4.8%. If I were to believe what the Finance Minister has said, and there is no reason to disbelieve him, the economy is growing at 5.4%%. Freight cannot be growing at 4.8%. You need some ideas for freight to grow at 6-7%. Where is freight losing out to Sir? I have two points. One is Food Corporation of India moves 250 million tonnes total and the share of the rail is 50 million tonnes. And in case of cement, out of 290 million tonnes, 90 million tonnes moves from the railway.

Now where is the problem here? The problem is railways are losing out to road. The two solutions which we give you Sir, I urge you to at least try them as some of them have already been tried as pilot projects. You cannot compete with road. You cannot book a consignment today which is 1000-1500 tonnes because each railway wagon has a capacity of 60 tonnes and 10 wagons will be 600 tonnes. So where do you go? You go to the road. You need to stop competing with road and make road your partner. So we recommend what was running in Konkan, try that again Sir – RORO. The concept of RORO is ‘roll on and roll off’. Please Sir, try RORO as a pilot project. The other pilot project which you ought to try is a road railer where a steel wheel is also a pneumatic tyre. So these are two small ideas for freight. There is a thought in the Budget and I will give credit where due. There is thought on parcel, extend that thought into freight then you will be talking about 500-600 tonnes and that’s why you will not be competing with road.

Sir I will make 4 sentences and 4 quick points before concluding. The first of those points is on catering policy. Sir, there is a new catering policy in place which was put together in 2010. Sir please take a look in that catering policy. I urge you and with all responsibility in my command please find out whether one family runs the catering business in India, the name of the company is CUMSUM. It is a racket in the Indian railways. Do what you can to break this racket.

Sir, please do not link diesel hike to FS. We have spoken a lot on this. On FDI, the view of my party on defense, insurance and rail is very, very well known sir. And the magic PPP pill will not solve all your problems.

Sir I conclude with the point on safety. Before I come to any different kind of safety, I want to mention the elephant corridor, there is also a safety issue there. Between Alipurduar and Jalpaiguri elephants are being killed. There are rules are in place, railways have the rules, Sir I urge the minister through you to please implement those rules about not driving and there is also a Supreme Court order.

One out of three level crossings in this country are unmanned. Our suggestion is put a timeline in place because otherwise there is no other solution for this Sir.

I will end now. Because I also love being on the internet, love tweeting, being on Facebook and everything, so WIFI is a favourite four letter word. But I will tell you a story which might want you to rethink the four letter word. The story is goes back 10-11 years. Paresh Gathwani is a pipe dealer in Kandivali in Mumbai. It is a true story. 10 or 11 years ago Paresh Gathwani saw something horrific. He saw someone who was knocked down by a train. Then they got the advertising banners to wrap the body of this person. So, Paresh Gathwani from that time 11 years ago, religiously goes to Grant Road and to Andheri station every day. 10 shrouds are needed every day for accidents on the suburban trains of Bombay. Paresh Gathwani gives two 650 yards of cloth every year. These are not enough to prevent those rail accidents in Bombay.

Safety is an issue; on the bigger point of safety, Sir we recommend to you ACD… Anti Collision Device is the best way to go because that has been tested. Coming back to my story, Paresh Gathwani and his friends give out those shrouds to save people. The only way the figure of accidents can come down and disappear is not by a four letter word called WIFI but by another four letter world WALL. Sir, WIFI is important but you decide if you still want to go with the 2nd four letter word.

Thank you.