The Railway Budget and all the drama before and after it was a good indicator of things to come for India. Mr. Dinesh Trivedi, former Railway Minsiter of India (was made to resign after he announced the Rail Budget for the year 2012-2013) did something that no other man had dared to do in the populist-coalition era of Indian politics. Mr. Trivedi hiked railway fare across the board by not-marginal, yet not-too-substantial amounts. He said that it was his duty to do what was good for the country as he was a Minister first, and then his party’s (Trinamool Congress Party’s) member in the Government. He categorically said that unless the fare was hiked the Railways would soon collapse. In fact, it is believed that the Railways could go the Air India way if there isn’t a timely intervention. The Railways currently spends 95% of its revenue on normal expenditure like salaries, maintenance, etc. leaving it very little elbow room for expansion, development and improvement of services. With an alarming rate of population growth and a rise in middle class travelers, the pressure on the Railways is more than ever, today. So, isn’t what Mr. Trivedi did, the right thing to do in these circumstances? Apparently not! As soon as the Budget was announced, the Trinamool Congress members and their leader Ms Mamata Bannerjee made a big hue and cry about the fare hike. They thought that hike in AC 2-tier and 1st class was tolerable, but a hike across the board would be a strain on the common man’s pocket.
According to a PTI report, the Railways would have raised a further Rs. 4000 crore through the hike. However, now that the new Railway Minsiter, Mukul Roy, has rolled back most of the hike, the expected revenue loss is around Rs. 3000 crore. This loss in revenue means a lot more than monetary loss to the Railways. The funds were to be used for an upheaval of Railway Security to act upon the growing number of accidents in the last few years. However, the passengers are now going to have to do without this security upgrade.
The question these unfortunate events raise in my mind is that, can this be the way forward for our country? The rail fare hike was, to my mind an absolute necessity. Some would say that the fare hike could have pinched the poorest of the society. Although it may be the sad truth, travel is and always has been a luxury, meant for the ones who can afford it. If the cost of travel has increased due to increase in the price of fuels then it has to be passed on to the traveler. Food may be subsidized by the Government, but travel deserves no such privilege.
This debate brings up a larger question about the direction that this country is heading in. India’s political ‘leaders’ have long stopped leading by example. They have become mere ‘followers’ of public mood. A leader must have vision about the country and convince his people that the hard way is the right way. He cannot allow the people to make him choose the easier path! The lack of vision in India’s leadership is going to cost us dearly in the coming century. We will be lead into chaos and we won’t even realize it until it is too late. This is the reason I feel the time has come for young, level-headed, well-meaning individuals to lead the nation by joining the game of politics, or else live to see an uncertain India.