Since the year 2017, the Railway Budget is a part of the Union Budget, and as a result, the debate and discussion which used to happen on the Indian Railways is now missing. But this should not reduce the importance of the Indian Railways as it is one government service that touches every citizen. The railways also continue to be the largest employer and ferries lakhs of people every day as well as goods across the country. Unlike other countries, India does not have private railway operators, hence it's a monopoly of the government.
LocalCircles recently conducted a large survey to ascertain citizen’s expectation from the upcoming budget. The survey received a total of more than 65,000 votes.
The first question was about what should be the top focus for the Indian Railways in Budget 2018. Around 44 percent citizens chose improving safety, 26 percent wanted improved services and amenities, 15 percent chose cleanliness while 15 percent chose improving timeliness. The spate of accidents that have occurred over the last year seems to have affected the general perception of safety in the railways, and hence it is being cited as the most important area.
In order to boost its revenues and capture the premium that exists on its tickets during the peak season, the railways had introduced the scheme of flexible fares in premium trains. This issue was widely discussed and debated when it was introduced. On the issue of flexible fares, around 61 percent citizens want it to continue but also want lower fares when trains are empty or during non-peak season. Approximately 29 percent want flexible fares to be abolished and base fares to be increased to have some sort of assurance on pricing, 8 percent want it to be continued as it is, while 2% were unsure about it. Flexi-fares are followed so as to ensure that the Indian Railways is able to benefit from high demand on certain routes and thus increase its profitability.
The third poll showed that 43 percent believe there has been a marginal improvement in safety and security in the Indian Railways in the last three years. Around 34 percent citizens, however, believe there have been no improvements in safety and security while 10 percent believe it has become worse.
To reduce accidents, citizens suggest that anti-collision devices should be installed in all trains and budgets for buying track testing equipment should be increased. They also pointed out that many coaches are more than 30 years old and should be replaced with modern steel/aluminium ones. They also said that baggage limitations should be put in place for each passenger and all unmanned crossings should be made automatic with the help of sensors.
The cancellation of Tatkal ticket is a major cause of concern as the refund amount is almost negligible and the ticket is also priced higher than normal. Should Indian Railways refund 50 percent on Tatkal ticket cancellation, if done six hours before departure? Ninety-four percent responded in a positive while only 6 percent replied in a negative.
As part of the survey, citizens were asked how should the emergency/VIP quota of 60,000 seats per day be rationalised. In response, 14 percent said it should be reduced to 30,000 seats a day, 34 percent said it should be reduced to 15,000 seats a day, while 39 percent said it should be completely removed. Thirteen percent of the respondents said that it should be left as it is.
In another poll, 89 percent of the 9,164 respondents said that there should be an online Aadhaar-based transparent centralised system created by Indian Railways so citizens with genuine emergencies and documentation can get a seat under an emergency quota. Only seven percent said that this should not be the case while 4 percent chose not to share their opinion.
With the functioning of the IRCTC website becoming smooth and ticket booking becoming easier, people feel that IRCTC should also give an option on their website where people can book emergency quota tickets on presentation of required documentation.
The next poll asked citizens if the emergency quota seats should be sold at premium tatkal rates. To that, 61 percent respondents replied in an affirmative, while 34 percent replied in a negative. Five percent respondents were not sure about it.
The government has recently taken steps to reduce the VIP culture on roads. It is the high time something is done to reduce VIP culture in Indian Railways too, and its functioning is made transparent. As demanded by citizens, the emergency quota seats should be made more accessible while reducing the number of quota seats significantly to put Indian Railways on the road to profitability.
The last question asked was if the Indian Railways' threshold for project spending without the Parliament's approval be increased from the current Rs 2.5 crores to Rs 10 crores. Seventy-nine percent said replied in affirmative whereas 13 percent said that it should stay where it is currently. Three percent of the respondents said it should be reduced further while 5 percent were unsure about the choice.
Citizens have lots of hope from the new rail minister and they believe that the existing loopholes in the Indian Railways would soon be plugged in the upcoming budget.
These are the results of an online survey done on www.LocalCircles.com platform across 200 districts and 110,000 voters from 10 December, 2017, to 10 January, 2018
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Updated Date: Jan 25, 2018 17:03:13 IST