The separate Rail Budget has chugged away one last time.
As kids, we knew there were two important things the Indian Government did to show the world it was working. One, to announce the Railway Budget for the year, followed a few days
later by the very ‘dense’ general budget. The Railway budget was ‘the first among equals’. In more ways than one. It was also more eagerly awaited and talked about. The Railway fares were very obvious expenses. Increased fares meant that the tickets to another city for a vacation would be that much costlier. Hence it became a ritual to follow the Railway Budget. There may be no plans to travel. But it was very comforting to realize how much additionally the family has saved on account of not making the travel. That the travel anyway not even on the cards initially is needless pedantry.
The Railway Budget had atleast something tangible to talk about. Some new station to be built, a new train to be added to ease the load between two cities, some fare hikes and sometimes a fare relaxation. The Railway Budget was tool for populist propaganda. To announce new stations, new trains etc. Good bad or ugly, the Railway budget was very understandable.
We were, alas, not so lucky with the general budget which followed a few days later. Those days the newspapers also did not package it the way it is being done today. It used to be difficult to try to fathom what it was all about.
The Indian Railways had been the torch bearer of the economic and social growth of 19th and 20th century India. But times are a-changing. The separate Rail budget is losing its relevance in the overall context of the growing Indian economy. A simple analogy between Indian Railways’ revenue to that of the still nascent Aviation sector is telling. The latter is slowly getting bigger at least in terms of top-line than the former. The typical middle class of a few decades ago now welcomes air travel. What defines the ‘up-ward’ mobility of the economy better, than this trajectory of the middle class?
Cool Chilli’s Comments
The Indian Railways under Mr Suresh Prabhu is also re-inventing itself in being more customer friendly and being responsive. This segment of the Infrastructure sector needs heavy investments. But the economy itself is in the middle of much investments and expansion. Also we need major defence spends. So it makes sense to include the Railways bogie to the General Budget. And well as one remembers the Railways and its stellar role in nation-building, it is best to bid adieu. No, not to the Railways. But to the separate budget we have seen presented only for the Indian Railways.