Railways minister Suresh Prabhu did not present the Rail Budget this year. But his speech on Thursday at an official function here was nothing short of Budget presentation: launch of a business plan for 2017-18, rollout of Roll-On-Roll-Off service, a policy on long term contracts for freight customers and plans on scaling up the travel experience for passengers. Only his speech was outside the Parliament.
“Nobody asked us to do this (make a budget presentation of sorts). But we decided to set goals for ourselves and take accountability for the tasks to be undertaken this year,” said Prabhu.
The government discontinued the 92-year-old practice of presenting a separate Rail Budget this year by merging it with the General Budget. Finance minister Arun Jaitley devoted all of three pages to the railways in the Union Budget and that couldn’t have reflected the railway ministry’s plans and vision for the coming financial year.
Prabhu made up for that on Thursday. His ministry’s function had all the trappings of a Rail Budget presentation. All top officials were present when Prabhu made the 45-minute long speech about his plans including initiatives to ramp up non-fare revenues and steps to provide for a “comfortable and pleasurable journey”. The two ministers of state for railways – Manoj Sinha and Rajen Gohain – were scheduled to be there, but opted out because of preoccupations.
The minister’s speech was interspersed with his recorded bytes from his earlier budget speeches in the large television screens that had been put up in the national rail museum auditorium. There was no thumping of desks as used to happen in Parliament, but this was more than compensated by the loud claps from the audience every now and then.
“Other ministries and departments may not have the practice of releasing business plans or annual statements, but the railways are an operational ministry. The annual plan will help rail employees align with the overall plan of the government”, Railway Board member (traffic) Mohammed Jamshed said.