Virtually 65% out of 7,000 people representing all sections interviewed in 20 cities by ASSOCHAM team have voted in favour of moratorium on new passenger trains and wants Railway Budget to focus on safety and modernization, improving existing track and rolling stock and separation of passenger and freight train lines.
The passengers want trains to run at much higher speed even at 180 to 200 kms per hour and heavy investment in safety related areas like more efficient signaling, GPS based train control, and making serious attempt in implementing the corporate culture in running the largest transportation system.
Releasing the findings of the interviews, the chamber president Rajkumar Dhoot said, “we have 63,974 route kms, 1,31,206 bridges 9000 locomotives, 51,000 passenger coaches, 2,19,931 freight cars operating 19,000 trains each day transporting over two million tons of freight and 23 million passengers every day touching 7,083 railway stations across the length and breadth of this vast country and yet sadly lack the corporate culture”.
Majority of the respondents feel that the large private sector participation in railways will be possible if investors are convinced that government is committed to run it as profitable entity.
There has been widespread public acceptance of recent modernization Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad airports despite the huge costs involved and the private sector participation in their construction and running.
ASSOCHAM strongly feel that the country as a whole cannot ignore the huge demand that rapid urbanization and immigration of people from villages and small towns to metros and mini-metros would create for more transportation. Though roads would also share this burden long distance travel could only be comfortable and possible on mass scale with railways. Mumbai that in 2011 had a population of 18.14 million would in just 2015 grow to 25 million, Delhi and Kolkata from 14.11 million to 16 million, and Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai, and other mini-metros cross 10 million. By 2030, some 40. 76 per cent of our people, that is 500 million, would be living in urban areas against 31.16 per cent in 2011.
This urban bulge would give us an idea of what would be the size of the long distance travelling public in the immediate future. There is therefore no escape from building a most modern scientifically designed and ICT based railway system.
As this will take at least a decade to implement in full, there is also no escape from starting the process right now itself. Also it is self-evident that such a system has costs and cannot be run as a social service at a huge discount to the travelling public forever. ASSOCHAM wants this imperative to sink in the public discourse.
Accepting that as a public utility catering to the needs of a people with wide variation in socio-economic capability, the railways could not always apply economic viability to every service it provides, most people would like to suggest that the transport major must be compensated for social service obligation from general revenues.
ASSOCHAM suggest an annual grant of Rs 15,000 crores for now to the railways from the general budge. This would be in addition to the one time grant of Rs 20,000 crores the chamber has earlier suggested for safety related investments and preparing the railways for transformation to the new responsibilities.
ASSOCHAM has suggested a three-way split of the undertaking with the passenger and freight sections becoming separate entities and the operations alone under the direct control of the Railway Board. The board itself will have member each from these two separate entities and will concentrate on planning and monitoring and will have overall authority to issue directives to the two separate entities from time to time.
This arrangement would also ensure that the well knit structure of the railways at present is focused on implementation of operation directly under the board which can set efficiency and economy norms. The Zonal Managers should be given more autonomy and financial powers and made accountable for pre-set operational indices. The financial arrangement could be worked out with the assets being owned by the Railway Board and treated as leased out to the two corporations dealing with passenger and freight customers.