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March 13, 2013

Trinamool Chief Whip Derek O`Brien speaks at RS on the Railways Budget Debate – puts forward the points on Vision 2020

Excerpts from Trinamool Chief Whip in Rajya Sabha Derek O' Brien's speech on Union Railway Budget, dated: 13-03-2013

Thank you, Madam, and I welcome you for being, at least in my tenure, the first lady on the Chair.

 Madam, it was 2.30 in the morning on a dark night in March and the train from Bombay to Howrah was tunneling along at 70 kilometers an hour.

The steam engine driver has been given all clear signals for the next three stations and he was speeding along. Most of the 750 passengers on the train were fast asleep. Suddenly, the steam engine driver, with his son-in-law inside the steam engine helping him shovel the coal, saw that two goods train had collided and they were on the same track as he was speeding along. He had to make a split-second decision. Either he could jump off, his son-in-law could jump off or both of them could jump off and this train could crush into the goods train. But what he decided to do was to ask his son-in-law to get off and he, at that high speed, disconnected or unlocked that steam engine from the rest of the passenger bogies. Not a single passenger bogie was derailed; not a single passenger was hurt. But one steam engine driver, Percey Carol, died. March the 20th, 1959, two years later Percey Carol was given the Ashok Chakra. Percey Carol is only one story from a family of 14 lakh people who make up the Railway Parivar. The Railway Parivar needs to be congratulated for becoming only the fourth Railway in the world after China, Russia, and America to carry one billion tons of freight in the year. It is a huge achievement and we can congratulate Railway Parivar. The Railway Parivar needs to be congratulated for becoming and experimenting that they can actually carry 10,000 tonnes on a single goods train which few countries in the world would do. Not everyone is a Percy Carol, but, in the small way, Railway Parivar has done so many things to keep the Indian Railways moving along. Some credit for these two large achievements could be shared by a lady, Ms. Mamata Banerjee, who presented four Budgets and who, in 1999, when she became the Railway Minister, figured that Indian Railways was No.2 in the world. But by the time she became the Minister in 2009, Indian Railways had sadly slipped to No.3 in the world. That is why she came up with the entire Railway Parivar and she, the leader of that Parivar, came up with the Vision 2020 Document to set the pace and agenda for the Railways. That Vision 2020 Document made the Railway Parivar a very focal point of any development which happens in the Indian Railways. What has the current Railway Minister done for this Railway Parivar? In the 2010 Budget, there was a proposal for homes for all. Simple proposal is that on railway line homes would be built for people in the Railway Parivar. So, two things could happen. After retirement they would all have a home and, secondly, in this nasty age they would also not be tempted to do things which were not approved. I would urge the hon. Minister, through you, Madam, to please in his reply address this core issue which affects the lives of 14 lakh people in the Railway Parivar. Madam, the Railways is much more than engines, tracks, signals and wires. The best reflection of ethos of a country is when it gets reflected in the movies. My seniors would remember the actor Ashok Kumar singing chuk chuk chuk, or, when I was in school we watched Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore singing Mere Sapno ki raani on the hills in North Bengal in the movie Aradhana. The younger ones here may recall Shahrukh Khan and Malaika Arora and, more recently, Ranbir Kapoor on Darjeeling station. The reason for making this point is because, in fact, when the movies start reflecting railways, that means the Railways, in fact, are a heart-line of India. So, when we look at the Railways, you can look it as a heart-line and you also need to look the bottom line. I think if you look at the heart-line, I want to congratulate the Railway Minister for looking at Jammu & Kashmir and for looking at a part of Arunachal Pradesh. We appreciate that.

But then, through you, Madam, I want to ask a question. Does the Minister have a small heart? No less a person than the Prime Minister of India called the Maoist insurgency one of the biggest challenges that India has to face. Absolutely, till today, there are 50 companies of military personnel in the Junglemahal area and what has happened there? What has happened in those areas? This is not an issue about Bengal; this is not an issue about parochialism; this is a big national issue, and I regret to let the Minister know, through you, Madam, that when we speak about Jangalmahal, and I will just speak for a minute in Bengali,  you can clearly see that for the Rs.289 crore project for the route from Bhadutala to Jhargram, Jhargram to Lalgarh, nothing has been allotted. For the line running from Beldah via Keshari-GopiNayagram-Baripada, in the heart of Jangalmahal, nothing has been allotted. For the route running from Jhargram to Midnapore, Midnapore to Purulia, it drew a blank. Madam, a plant was proposed at Jelingham to be established jointly by SAIL, Indian Railways and Government of India. It has been given nothing – absolutely zero. For the DEMU workshop in Haldia, out of the total project of Rs.120 crore, only Rs.10 crore have been allotted. 60% of the work is complete. This project has been deliberately stopped. Now it is being told that there is no road. What is the meaning of `no roads?` I can say boldly and I can challenge the Railway Minister that not even a letter was submitted to Haldia Development Authority. If you do not write a letter, how can you expect permission from Haldia Development Authority? For the line running from Dankuni to Furfursharif – it was a project of Rs.535 crore, out of which only Rs.5 crore have been allotted.  

So, this is the point about Jangalmahal and this is a social project. These are social projects. So, that is the second point that I want to make.

Let me move on to this great myth which is often promoted, which says that for safety and for passenger amenities, you can only get good safety and passenger amenities if you push the passenger fares up. In other words, if you keep the passenger fares at the same level, safety will suffer and amenities will suffer. This is a myth. This is a fallacy. Let me, on the floor of this House, try and explain, Madam, through you, to the Railway Minister as to what the fallacy is. First myth – Rs.24,000 crore is the loss on passenger fares. We dispute this figure. This figure of Rs.24,000 crore depends on how you look at it. If you look at certain distributed costs and if you look at certain operational costs and if you put that on to the passenger fares, the passenger fares will look to loose more than they actually are. Our contention is that this figure may be sub-Rs.10,000 crore. Then, what is the thinking of putting this big minus figure on passenger fares? I will tell you. One is that you create, as has been suggested in this Budget, this Traffic Regulatory Authority which will finally monitor these fares, who are not answerable to Parliament and what will really happen as a result is that the fares will go up and up. It is a very simple solution. I want to use an allied example of a totally different field. Let us take the example of a newspaper. I am giving you a simple example so that most of us can understand. The newspaper we read today costs about Rs.14 or Rs.15 each copy, and yet, we get the newspaper for two rupees or three rupees a copy. Why? The simple concept of cross subsidy is there. Somebody is subsidizing the cost of a newspaper. In the case of a newspaper, it is the advertiser. That is why, we are paying two or three rupees and not fourteen rupees. Since for two years before I became a Member of Parliament, I had the opportunity to be the Chairman of the Passenger Services Committee, and the one figure which really shocked me — I remember about the second day I walked into my office — was that how much is the percentage, and I am still on passengers, of passengers who travel on Rajdhani, Shatabdi, Duronto and all the ACs put together and all the first classes put together, all of them. That means non-AC sleepers and suburban. That figure for all that is one per cent. One per cent of your passengers are traveling in that. But, the balance 85 to 90 per cent passengers are the voiceless people who don`t really have a voice. We have no problem if you want to have executive lounges and wifi. That is all very good.

But spare a thought for those 85 to 90 per cent of the people who travel by ordinary second class. Madam, I have one more point with regard to passenger amenities before I move on to other issue. In Rajya Sabha, on 8th of March, 2013, not too long ago, hon. Member Mr. Rajiv Chandrasekhar asked a question to the Minister of Railways, and, I quote, `What is the present status of losses suffered by the Indian Railways?` And, here is the answer. ` The Indian Railways did not suffer any loss and generated resources of Rs. 7,600 crore in 2011-12, and, in 2012-13, it generated Rs. 17,000 crore of surplus.`

 Madam, there is a very popular video, the world`s most popular video ever on YouTube. It is called something `Gang Nam Style` made in South. It is a Korean video. You are familiar with music, Madam. So, the way we are going, we thought, we are coming out with an Indian equivalent, which is called `Congress Style`. And, now, let me give you a few examples. What is `Congress Style`? No supposed hike in the Railway Budget but on January, the 21st, five weeks before the Budget, the passenger fares were hiked by 21 per cent. I hate to think what would have happened if they hiked the fare on 31st of January and not the 21st because then the hike would have been 31 per cent but it is 21 per cent. Madam, the hon. Minister is here, and, I am happy that he is here and he is listening to what we have to say. The hike was announced a few weeks before. Now, we come to the hidden charges, the hidden fare hike – the fuel surcharge, the supplementary fee, the reservation fee, and, Tatkal booking charges. There is no Power Point in Rajya Sabha Chamber but I have a simple sheet which summarizes the hikes and travel by train today. One specific one, which we have a major quibble with, is the cancellation fee. Now, the cancellation fee hike has gone up from, in some cases, 50 to 100 per cent. This is a major pain, and, Mr. Minister, please re-consider your decision of hike in cancellation fee. Sometimes, passengers are at 500th or 600th position in the waitlist. You can imagine what will happen if after that, there is a cancellation fee. If you add all these numbers, Madam, do you know what extra revenue this is generating for the Indian Railways? Rs. 400 crore ! This is your extra revenue. Let me not play politics; I have not done it so far in my speech. Let me, instead, in a bi-partisan way, get to some ideas, which we want to share. Please go back to the Vision 2020 Document, and, I say this with all respect. The hon. Minister of Railways has been the Minister for about hundred days. The Vision 2020, Madam, is an 81 -page document. Had he read one page every day in these hundred days, I promise you, he would have been enriched because the Vision 2020 Document, which was made under the leadership of Ms. Mamata Banerjee in 2009, sets out three broad parameters. One, you need to increase freight, and, I told you what are the different ways in which you can do it; two, you need to do mass-transit system; and, three, speed-trains. I am not going to speak on speed trains today. But let us specifically talk about freight. Now, let me come to the first suggestion which we want to make. The target you put for yourself is 3.3  per cent freight. Where are you going to get your money? From passengers. Here is a simple fact about freight and then the solution.

Madam, today, if you want to book any consignment on the Indian Railways, if it is a 1,000-tonne consignment, you cannot move it on the Indian Railways, if it is a 1,500-tonne consignment, you cannot move it, if it is a 2,000-tonne consignment, you cannot move it, if it is 2,500-tonne consignment on a six-ton carrying capacity, you cannot move it. The minimum requirement for moving freight on a six-tons carrying capacity on the Indian Railways is 2,700 tons and, in an eight-ton carrying capacity, it is 2,800 tons. Now, what is the problem here, and, what is the suggestion? The problem is that it is too large a consignment. So, today, the solution for this is the Railways officially booking smaller consignments. And, don`t tell me, Mr. Minister, that you know you can actually book smaller consignments because you can. I have got 500, you have got 600, someone has got 700, someone has got 400, you get a dalal, you put it together and that is how you get 2700. I am not talking about that. I am talking about exploring the idea of smaller consignments. That is one solution your freight income will go up. The second one is which was suggested after Vision 2020 and by Mamta Banerjee, there was a pilot plan. I would urge the hon. Railway Minister, Madam, through you, to consider the concept of RORO which has only been done, I think, on Konkon. What is the concept of RORO. Today, Balbir Punj sahib was mentioning in his speech and some other speakers were also talking about road transport. Now, do you want to compete with road or do you want to partner road? Our proposition is you can partner road. And, how do we suggest to partner road? You call it a concept of RORO which is already on a pilot basis. There is no mention of this in this Budget speech. You have to move goods by truck. So, you move the goods by truck from point A to point B. Then, the entire truck is put on to a wagon. It moves from point B to point C. Then, the truck gets off and goes from point C to point D which is the destination. Sir, these are ideas. These ideas have been tested. But the lord knows, the reasons may be political or whatever, I would urge the hon. Minister, in a bipartisan way, to look at some of these ideas and try and implement some of these ideas rather than only putting the meter down when it comes to passengers.

Sir, we have had our share of Railway Ministers in the past. We understand and we appreciate that you get a lot of requests for new trains, new lines. We have no grudge that three MPs or four MPs are happy. I am not going to mention those constituencies. But what you heard in the Lok Sabha when you were announcing them is not only about one city or one State. It is across the country. You talk about Bengal, you talk about Tamil Nadu, you talk about Bihar, you talk about Odisha, you talk about UP, everyone, by and large, was very unhappy. And, what really happened for Bengal? Let me tell you what happened. In September, because of FDI in retail, because of diesel prices going up, because of other prices going up, because of LPG subsidy, Trinamool Congress moved out. And what happens is, then the Congress get down to sub-250 seats. So, here is that big chance. Throttle Bengal. And, let me give you facts. First, on Bengal, let me give you a statistic. Twenty per cent of the Zonal Headquarters of Indian Railways are in Bengal because three out of the seventeen Eastern Railway and Metro are in Bengal. So, that is why Bengal is a priority. And the last four Budgets have raised the hopes and aspirations of the people of Bengal and Bengal got five out of sixty-seven, one bi-weekly became twice a week. Sir, one of those focuses of that Vision 2020 document was on mass transport system, the MTS, and the only underground railway today run by the Indian Railways is the Metro Railway of Bengal. And what did this  Railway Minister do to those Metro Railway projects? The previous speaker, the hon. MP from the Left, was trying to play politics. I am not playing politics here. I am only going to give you figures and then you judge for yourselves. With your permission, I will give you these figures and the next one-two minutes of my speech will be in Bangla. Now I shall speak about Metro Project – Kolkata Metro Project. Out of the total cost of Rs.2400 crore for the route Noahpara-AirportBarasat, you gave only 170 crore.

I will try Hindi even though my Hindi is very bad. I come to railway wagons. Sir, 16,000 railway wagons are manufactured every year in the country. Maybe, it is a coincidence that, out of top ten companies, seven are in Bengal. We have Texmaco, Bestco, Jupitor, Burn Standard, etc. They are all in Bengal. Madam, there is no mention about it in the Budget. It is either they want 1 lakh people lose their jobs or they want to make those industries sick. And, I would not finish with Bengal. In the Eastern Railway, for which projects announced, if you look at the percentage of outlays when compared to project cost, it is all between 0.1 per cent and 5 per cent!

This includes all the proposed lines from Lakkhikantapur to Namkhana, Tarakeshwar to Bishnupur, Hasnabad-Hindolganj-Sunderbans, Krishnanagar to Karimpur, Tarakeshwar to Furfura Sharif, and Azimganj. And look at the allotment for Kanchrapara – they have allotted a meagre Rs.2 crore for the total of Rs.800 crore. You spoke about East-West. In the case of Rs.4000 crore project for Airport-New Garia, only 250 crore were allotted. For the Dumdum Barrackpore-Noahpara project, only 30 crore have been allotted out of the projected Rs.3000 crore. For the Joka-BBD Bagh project, only a miniscule 1.7% – Rs.45 crore – of the total project cost of Rs.2600 crore were allotted. For the East West Corridor project, only 10 crore have been allotted to Bengal out of the total Rs.4800 crore.  I come to railway wagons. Sir, 16,000 railway wagons are manufactured every year in the country. Maybe, it is a coincidence that, out of top ten companies, seven are in Bengal. We have Texmaco, Bestco, Jupiter, Burn Standard, etc. They are all in Bengal. Madam, there is no mention about it in the Budget. It is either they want 1 lakh people lose their jobs or they want to make those industries sick. And, I would not finish with Bengal. In the Eastern Railway, for which projects announced, if you look at the percentage of outlays when compared to project cost, it is all between 0.1 per cent and 5 per cent! This includes all the proposed lines from Lakkhikantapur to Namkhana, Tarakeshwar to Bishnupur, HasnabadHindolganj-Sunderbans, Krishnanagar to Karimpur, Tarakeshwar to Furfura Sharif, and Azimganj. And look at the allotment for Kanchrapara – they have allotted a meager Rs.2 crore for the total of Rs.800 crore.  Madam, Paresh Nathwani is a pipe dealer in Kandivli. He performs a singular social service. He provides free shrouds for those who killed by sub-urban trains of Mumbai. About ten years ago, Paresh saw a man run over by a train on Grant Road. The railway workers tore down an advertising banner to cover the body as a shroud. Mr. Nathwani was touched and till today he continues his social service. He actually goes to four of these stations, including Andheri, which gets ten shrouds every week and he give two shrouds a week. He runs through 650 yards of cloth every year. But, it is not enough; it is a long way from enough. The trains of Mumbai kill 4,000 people everyday. This is from Suketo Mehta's book “Maximum city.”

It is 4,000 people a year. It was because I was reading. There were other figures in my speech. All those figures are fine. It is not 4,000 people killed in Mumbai everyday, but it is 4,000 a year.  Sir, I now come to safety. Safety is an issue. There are unmanned level crossings. The wall is supposed to be in Mumbai. There are other safety issues like Anti-Collusion Device. We have been playing and toying around with the ACD. The pilot project to test ACD is already in place. It is already tested. So, please don't come with new harebrain schemes of testing the European model of TPWS. It is 15 times more expensive and it may not work.

Sir, signaling is one focus area where we need to focus not only for safety but also for faster movement of trains.  Sir, I would say in conclusion that since Independence, so many Rail Ministers, who have been given an opportunity, leave their imprints not only in the history but also on the Indian Railways and on our great nation. And, they have come up with, at least, one big memorable/workable idea in Budget which has stayed on for 40 or 50 years. Shri N. Gopalaswamy Iyengar, our second Railway Minister, came up with a great idea which is still stayed today. It is the concept of Railway Zones. Shri Madhu Dandavate — may his soul rest in peace — came up with the idea of removing wood from sleeper and putting cushion. That is another big idea. Shri Madhavrao Scindia came up with the idea of IT and, truly, introduced IT into the Indian Railways. Sadly, today, different departments are pulling at different directions. As a result, IT is not properly being implemented. But, the first idea came from Shri Madhavrao Scindia. Shri Nitish Kumar came up with a concept. We will remember this for the next fifty years. All credit to him for Tatkal Scheme. That was his idea. Shri Lalu Prasad Yadav came up with Garib Rath. Ms. Mamta Banerjee, to my mind, came up with, at least, three big ideas. The first one is the Vision 2020 Document. The second one is Duronto Express. Remember, there was Rajdhani in 1969, Shatabdi in 1977 and from 1977 to 2009 there was no new concept of a train. So, Duronto is an idea here to stay.

And, of course, the Izzat Railway Passes for people who are below the poverty line, was another idea which Mamata Banerjee gave to the Indian Railways.  We know that the hon. Minister has ignored the Jungle Mahal and those Maoist-infected areas. We know that he has throttled Bengal. We know he hasn't spread the Railways across the country. So, I ask him a question, through you, Sir. Please tell us; what is that one big idea in his Budget which will be remembered — forget about 25 years; forget about 25 months – even for 25 days? Thank you, Sir.