The otherwise technocrat Suresh Prabhu had to seek refuge in words more than the numbers, while presenting his second Railway Budget. Alliterations, acronyms and poetry marked his speech as he comfortably skipped the finer budget details.
Fancy epithets are signature feature of almost all schemes and announcements of the NDA government and the Railway Budget 2016-17 was no exception either. Prabhu announced a slew of consumer friendly schemes and targets for the Indian Railways. He made sure all of them had ornate titles – all in Hindi.
So while there was ‘Navarambh’ (a new beginning) for the structural changes suggested for the Indian Railways, he also laid down three pillars for its functioning - Nav Arjan (New revenues), Nav Manak (New norms) and Nav Sanrachna (New Structures). A man of few words, even fewer numbers this time, Prabhu indicated the financial plans through these pillars – less budgetary allocation, more innovative extra-budgetary financing.
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Member of opposition voiced their dissent in the Parliament over the minister not spelling out the detailed financial status of the Railways in his speech. The speech lasted exactly an hour but Communist Party of India (Marxist) Lok Sabha MP Md.Salim said it was one of the longest Railway budget speeches in recent years, but also one of the most boring.
“It seems Prabhu, who is a well meaning person and has lots of new ideas about improving the Railways found himself trapped in the rhetoric of his own government to deliver such a lacklustre speech," he said.
Weighed down by declining freight earnings and impeding fear of losing passengers to low-cost airlines, Prabhu quoted from Harivansh Rai Bachchan to Buddha in his speech. Battling negative economic indicators, decline in core sector growth and increased pressure of the new 7th Pay Commission norms, Prabhu derived reassurance from the poem written by former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
As he quoted, “Vipdayen aati hain toh aayen, hum na rukenge, hum na rukenge. Aaghaton ki kya chinta hai? Hum na jhukenge, hum na jhukenge” (Sorrows would come, we won’t stop. We are not worried about any attack, we won’t give up.)
For the Railways Board, Prabhu laid down seven missions calling it ‘Avataran’. For the functioning of the Indian Railways, he spelled six structural changes - Navinikaran, Sashaktikaran, Aekikaran, Shodh aur vikas, Vishleshan and Navrachna. All of this, the minister said can be achieved through “Co-operation, Collaboration, Creativity and Communication.”
Among other noted announcements were, Janani Sewa for mothers and kid services in train, porters to be called ‘sahayaks’ and not coolies, Rail Mitra Seva to assist senior citizens and Vikalp - train on demand to provide choice of accommodation in specific trains to waitlisted passengers.
Prabhu announced special trains with special names such as Antyodaya Express, Humsafar, Tejas and UDAY. By the way UDAY stands for Utkrisht Double-Decker Air-conditioned Yatri’ and not the NDA’s power reforms scheme of the same name.
Prabhu cited Bachhan once and Vajpayee twice. While dissenting voices started to surface in the Parliament, Prabhu quickly wrapped his speech with Gautam Buddha’s words.
“Even as our journey continues, I am reminded of Gautama Buddha who said that whenever one contemplates a journey, there are two mistakes one can make: not starting, and not going all the way. We have already started the journey and I intend to go all the way and we will not rest till we take Bhartiya Rail to a destination called samridhi or success,” he said.
As lack of headline announcements left the viewers, parliamentarians and journalists high and dry, Prabhu would have to revisit his own words. Probably next year, he would need numbers to justify the words.