One really curse the mindless, cheap populism of almost all parties in last over 10-15 years where no fare or freight hikes were allowed on one or the other reason and the worst hit was the railways rolling stock.

Politicians and parties were bothered of their existence, no matter the entire system go to the dogs. Now, the crying need of the hour is maintenance of existing rolling stocks run-worthy, as accidents, due to fare, wear and tear of the track, bogies and engines increases day by day. Of course, sometimes rail accidents were caused by sabotage too is an undeniable fact.

When a former TMC minister in UPA brought in a fine rail budget recommending 10% increase in fares and freight charges in the first part of the UPA-II, his own party boss, Madam Mamata Banerjee raised the worst voice of revolt against that and not only the minister was made to resign but the party too withdrew support from the UPA in protest. That was the power of sheer populism over maintaining the existing system trouble or rather accident free.

Surely, Indian railways suffered due to mindless politics of populism for last 10-15 years when the sole aim of all political parties in India was to somehow or other stick to power in the era of coalition politics with all its inherent compulsions whatsoever.

Now that when a single party govt that has got 282 seats on its own yet there are some of its allies like the Shiv Sena and Akali Dal are in its bandwagon, the BJP is now emboldened enough to do something tangible sans populism of any kind. It is good in a way but then the problem seems to be that they want to carry heavy loads on its wings and fly up and up in the skies. At least, that is what the country witnessed since May 26, the formal takeover of power by N. Modi as PM. No need to write on the hikes in diesel, petrol, gas, rail fares and freight charges that acts like a cryogenic engine to boost up prices of all essential commodities that affect the common man very badly in his day to day life. Almost all daily use/consumable items are beyond the reach of ordinary Indians.

Yesterday, the Indian railway minister K. Sadanand Gowda presented his maiden rail budget in the Lok Sabha that promises nothing to the ordinary rail travelers other than the increased fare hikes that brought criticism from within the NDA like Shiv Sena as the Mumbai rail commuters were taken aback over this steep hike in fares even before presenting the rail budget. And on 8th July, when the rail budget was presented, the parliament witnessed some unruly scenes as the entire team of TMC MPs rushed to the well of the house shouting slogans against it, as while on one side there was nothing to cheer up for the public, the minister had shown a loll pop in the form of the 60,000 crores worth proposal to run a bullet train from Mumbai to Ahmedabad for which the public-private participation (PPP) was invited. The decision of the rail ministry to invite 100% investment of public in railways raised many eye-brows as it was the same BJP when in the opposition objected to such investment earlier. It was because of such objection and stalling of parliament, the UPA govt. went slow in reform process that created current situation of poor maintenance of bogies and other suffering to rail travelers throughout the country. When our immediate neighboring countries like China and Japan have already modernized their railways to international standards, India remained in their same old track, bogies and ill-maintained rolling stocks to appease the aam admi by not raising fares or other charges for long.

The immediate need of the hour for India is putting back to bare minimum maintenance standard of the track, repair/replacement of existing bogies in long distance trains, the condition of most are worst to say the least. For example, Kerala Express that runs from New Delhi to Thiruvananthapuram on a daily basis is a train in which thousands of people travel to and fro. There were reports that the passengers had to face innumerable trouble due to rodents, cockroaches etc eating away the little eatables they carry with. Earlier, when RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav was the Railway Minister, of course he tried to make railways one of the highly profit making enterprises for which he got international applause, there was a discussion on the innumerable rodents all over the tracks, especially when one look at prestigious stations like Nagpur Central where even in day times, one can see them jumping and dancing openly all over the tracks, Lalu with his inimical style, gave a lecture on how in his young days he caught rats and made delicious fries of it and ate.

Certainly, it may be a delicious food for him but all can’t be a Lalu any way and the kind of cheap populism by not raising fare and freight charges but introducing other innovative schemes like Tatkal train booking, the railways not only survived all onslaughts but also improved its finance.

RK Kutty

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