Nitish kumar, the Bihar CM and former Railway minister, has written an edit page column in the Indian express of date, criticising the Railway budget presented in parliament yesterday. Like all “columnists” of India, he has written superficially, staying non-committal, without dealing with specifics.
But he was once Railway minster also, and therefore we can readily compare what he did with what he wants to be done, even if it is all written in generalese.
1. He did create a Special Railway Safety Fund, that wiped out maintenance arrears. Perhaps the person who gave him inputs for the column (or ghost wrote it, may be) confused SRSF as the fund that was to increase safety at level crossings, and so he talks in the column of “overhead bridges” whereas SRSF mainly was to rebuild/strengthen old bridges, specifically early steel bridges and screw pile bridges; and for carrying out overdue track renewal. This fund was indeed path breaking and if Indian Railway has seen relatively safer operations in past ten years, it is because of SRSF.
2. Except SRSF, it was all the same old Socialist stuff of increasing government foot print in business. The idea that Railway should have its own water bottles to supply to passengers was pure socialist folly. Equally foolish was the idea for Railway to have its own power plant. IRCTC was a bad idea, at best a halfway house. Catering can be best done by private players, for which a policy framework could have been created which he never did.
3. As for investment, he was just as populist and arbitrary as have been most of the Railway ministers. He sanctioned projects not to enhance capacity but to win elections. Many of the new lines he sanctioned in Bihar are perennial loss making lines, whereas many other sections are crying for capacity enhancement.
4. He continued the policy of pick and choose in case of appointments to higher posts, instead of having and following any objective criterion. This finally led to Mama-Bhanja cash-for-promotions scandal.
All in all, as Railway minster he was nowhere near the present Railway minister, whom he wants to advise, sanctimoniously.
Read the column here.