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Rail Budget roko

The Railway Budget exists only because it gives the opportunity to a Union minister — usually a member of a party allied to the leading party in the government — to pull out a few rabbits from his or her hat.

india Updated: Feb 23, 2010 22:41 IST

Why do we need a separate Railway Budget? Wags like us have a theory: so that for yet another day of the year, newspaper pages can be filled and television channels can get busy with an annual event that smells like a major event, tastes like a major event, looks like a major event, but is really the annual report of India’s largest public sector company. Frankly, all that commuters want to know is the price of tickets, which surely doesn’t need a budget speech and the accompanying trumpet blast.

In 1924, according to the Ackworth Committee recommendations (our point exactly), railway finances were delinked from the general budget exercise. The idea was “to assume responsibilities for earning and expanding [the Indian Railways’] own income”. Things, we believe, have changed considerably since Mr Ackworth’s day. For instance, the energy sector gets the government much more moolah than the network of trains, and we don’t seem to need a separate Energy Budget each year, do we? Even when one talks of freight, more than half of India’s goods are ferried across by roads. There’s no separate Surface Transport Budget either. Yes, with 1.8 crore daily train passengers, trains remain the biggest mode of transport for Indians. So what? All Indians eat (or, at least, hope to). Do we than have a separate Food Budget?

The Railway Budget exists only because it gives the opportunity to a Union minister — usually a member of a party allied to the leading party in the government — to pull out a few rabbits from his or her hat. With the media trained on the minister for one day, what better platform to dole out a few goodies to one’s electorate? There’s now news that there will be a dedicated railways television channel with “content developed to bring out various facets of Indian Railways”. Does that shock you? Well, what shocks us is that we still have a Railway Budget.