Pawan Kumar Bansal’s restrained Railways Budget found few friends in Parliament with most Opposition MPs choosing to nitpick over his inability to send a train to their constituency. The media has been more generous in their reading.
Noting that there was nothing unique about the budget presented by Bansal, the Hindu said that if nothing else the Railway Budget was peppered with projects that indicated the onset of poll season:
Like his predecessors, Mr. Bansal could not resist the temptation of announcing a string of new manufacturing units, 67 new express and 27 new passenger trains, in addition to a host of new lines and surveys. Of course, many if not most of these have gone to select constituencies important to the Congress party, and to electorally important States such as Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh. With general elections due in 2014, Mr. Bansal has used the budgetary means at his disposal to signal the onset of campaign season.
The Indian Express is a little less critical and says that the Railway Minister has done his best:
To his credit, the minister correctly resisted the temptation to announce a raft of projects that would only further cripple the railways. Instead, he concentrated on steps to shore up the financial strength of the organisation.
However, the “critical task of giving a new direction to the railways” has been missed by the minister and also improving links with the private sector.
The Times of India is equally unimpressed with the Railway Minister’s budget but notes that at least he didn’t make things worse than what he found them:
A saving grace is that the railways’ reservation system, which is on the verge of collapse, will finally be upgraded. Similarly, promises have been made to clean up trains and stations, improve substandard services and provide more passenger amenities. If the railways actually delivers on these promises, travellers will be benefited. Perhaps the best that can be said of this budget is that no harm was done.
The Telegraph is scathing in its review of the Railway Minister’s budget and says that the Railways Budget should be a part of the Finance Minister’s budget since it is nothing but an expensive sideshow:
At the beginning of his speech, the railways minister stated that the railways could not continue as it had for so many years, that it needed to be financially sound, even self-reliant over the long-term. But if his proposals are anything to go by, there is an astonishing lack of vision about how that financial sustainability can be attained.
The Economic Times, however has called it a ‘welcome relief from populism’ but hasn’t been as bullish as Mint that calls it a bold budget that has chosen ‘pragmatism over grand-standing’.
While the uninspiring budget presented by Bansal is unlikely to go down in the history books as a Railway Budget of note for the content or the drama following it, it is unlikely to make any changes to the fortunes of the Indian Railways.