THE Finance Minister’s General Budget 2017-2018, which, in a first, also included the Railway Budget, has not gone down well with Puneites. Commuter organisations and activists said the budget announced nothing that could cheer up the mood of lakhs of passengers who use the Indian Railways services daily.
In his budget speech, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said India is now in a position to synergise the investments in railways, roads, waterways and civil aviation. The minister said the Railways will focus on four major areas — passenger safety, capital and development works, cleanliness and finance and accounting reforms. “So what’s new? The government has been talking about cleanliness and safety of passengers for long and steps in these directions have already been taken,” said Harsha Shah, President of Railways Pravasi Group.
Shah said Puneites were hoping for at least a handful of new trains or an increase in frequency of trains.
Central Railway spokesperson Manoj Jhanwar said the government had made it clear that any announcement of new trains or increase in frequency of trains in the budget, as and when required.
“The government has been saying that for the last two years. In every budget, new trains were announced… In this budget too, the finance minister has announced that rail traffic for tourist places and pilgrimage sites will be enhanced. Though he did not specify the number of trains to be increased,” said Shah.
On the proposed steps for modernisation and upgradation of identified corridors, Jaitley said Railway lines of 3,500 kms will be commissioned in 2017-18. “The minister spoke about laying 3,500-km line. However, for 20 years, our demand for a less than 50-km line between Pune and Lonavla, has not been fulfilled,” said Gulam Ali Bhaldar, President, Chinchwad Pravasi Sangh.
The minister has also promised redevelopment of at least 25 stations during 2017-18 and that 500 stations will be made differently-abled friendly by providing lifts and escalators. “They are planning to make Pune Railway Station world-class… But if you visit it once, you wouldn’t feel like going there again. It is so overcrowded and unclean,” said Shah, adding that promises of redevelopment were made in previous budgets too.
Emphasising the government’s focus on ‘Swachh Rail’, Jaitley said a series of steps were proposed to enhance cleanliness in Railways, of which, an SMS-based ‘Clean My Coach Service’ has already started. It is now proposed to introduce the ‘Coach Mitra’ facility, a single-window interface to register all coach related complaints and requirements.
The Budget has also promised that all coaches of Indian Railways will be fitted with bio-toilets by 2019. “Hope this is done as early as possible… Currently, rail toilets are in a horrendous condition,” said Jayant Kariya, a frequent traveller to Hyderabad.
Officials of the Central Railways said since the Railway Budget was merged with the General Budget, they don’t have finer details. “We are awaiting the pink book from the Railway Ministry, which will unfold the real allocation for Pune Division,” said Jhanwar.