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'Let's integrate our rail, airport infrastructure'

By Praful Patel
March 22, 2016 09:17 IST
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India as a large country should have inter-modal connectivity, which will help us make travel easier, safer and seamless. That is how you will also gain. You will gain more money, make more revenues, says Praful Patel.

I rise to speak on the Railway Budget. Without being political about it, I must say my friend, Mr Suresh Prabhu, is a fine person. He has the ability to turn around the Railways, and make a difference, which we all seek. But I still have some apprehensions.

Of course, the Budget is in the right direction. There are no new announcements. There is no populism. Even last year he tried to keep the Budget focused in terms of achieving the targets rather than simply expanding the scope of targets. I think it is a matter of great importance and caution that we do not overstretch our commitments because there are so many projects, so many railway lines, including in my erstwhile constituency, which I represented in the Lok Sabha, where projects started 20 years ago and still they have not seen the light of day.

Part of it is done and the balance is not completed. This is the story of most of the projects. I think it is important that prioritisation is done and completion of projects is timely rather than having half-baked and unfinished projects.

I have also a word of caution. There is a mention in the finance minister’s speech that the government is going to have a capex of Rs 1.25 lakh crore by the Railways in the current fiscal and Rs 1,000 crore for the roads sector. While I have also been in the infrastructure ministry, and I have no doubt the Railways is a far bigger, far more well-equipped organisation, but to absorb Rs 1.25 lakh crore of capital expenditure in one single financial year is a humungous task, and it is a huge challenge. I wish you well, but I have my doubts about it.

And doubts are not because of the intention but because of our own systems. The capacity of our systems is first to take decisions, to give the clearances, then, there are 10 other issues, which are involved. Therefore, as a statement of intent that you will be spending “x” amount of money is a good thing.

But I do not know how much of that will be actually spent. Nonetheless, I compliment you and wish you well. Even if 50 per cent of the money is spent, I think it will go a long way in improving the overall infrastructure of the Railways.

We are very happy to see that bullet trains are coming into the country, I am not one of those who will start criticising why there should be a bullet train and why so much money should be spent. Of course, at some stage, somewhere a beginning has to be made. And why not, if it is being made? You are getting good financial assistance from Japan on very favourable terms by JICA. I think it is a good step.

But, at the same time, why not look at increasing the speed of our overall railway network by only 20 km an hour? I am not even saying you increase it by 50 km an hour from high-speed trains, which is an average of 110 km an hour. You can even go up to 130 km an hour -  certain tracks are good for that. If need be, certainly with less capex you can increase the overall efficiency of the Railways.

One more thing which I feel is to try to integrate our rail network with the airport infrastructure. You land in major cities of the world, you go to the basement, then, you go 100 or 200 or 300 km by the railway network. I am saying this because I tried. I broke my head and finally I thought if I continue with my obstinacy neither will the airport be ready nor will the railway network come.

So, I thought that let’s choose the lesser of the two evils and then get ready, at least, with the present. Even in the case of Delhi Metro, which you see going to the airport - I am not saying this, but I would like to state my own experience - there was so much resistance. This is not viable. That is not viable. This won’t happen. That won’t happen.

I said everything can’t be looked at in the paradigm of viability in certain things. I am not trying to say that. Most of our projects in our country are viable. Why are we talking of one in isolation? How many can really be justified if you really want to go on the basis of viability? But the fact is that certain conveniences are important. That is why this Delhi Metro came with great difficulty. If that was not there, can you imagine how in isolation we were to live?

But the point I was making is, suppose you landed in Delhi and you got off and had been to the basement and then you want to go to Agra or Jaipur or Chandigarh or Kanpur or Lucknow, wherever you would have had a train taking you in the Indian Railway network, it would have decongested airports, railway stations, given passengers seamless connectivity. All these things are possible. It is not that it is not possible. Somewhere we have to make a beginning.

Why can connectivity be not done? Therefore, while we concentrate on all these things, eventually, India as a large country - whether it is Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad or Bengaluru - its major metros should have this kind of an inter-modal connectivity, which will help us make travel easier, safer and seamless. That is how you will also gain. You will gain more money, make more revenues. That is how the Indian Railways should also design itself for the future.

Sir, there are lots of things. At the end of the day, everybody wants to see the Indian Railways in a good financial position. Now, we have the pressures of the Seventh Pay Commission. We have other compulsions, too, of finding the money.

We have to see how that money is not only going to be found but also to see how it is going to pay for itself. At the end of the day, Sureshji, I was complimenting you that if at all somebody can turn around the Indian Railways, it is you. I said that while you were not listening. Now that you have come halfway, I am repeating it for you.

Sir, there is the issue of port connectivity, freight corridors and all that. When we were in the government, we had discussed the issue of coal evacuation. If there are only some few thousand kilometres of rail corridors unconnected or the lines have not been properly planned and if we are able to execute those 2,000 or 3,000 km of rail lines to evacuate coal, I think, the availability of coal, which is already there and is unfortunately not being able to be provided to the State Boards or to the IPPs because of the poor evacuation, the shortage of coal could have been addressed.

Edited excerpts from Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) member of Parliament Praful Patel’s speech on the Railway Budget in the Rajya Sabha, in New Delhi on March 14.

Photograph: PTI

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