NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi termed Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu's 2016-17 Rail budget, featuring announcements of Antyodaya Express and the Deen Dayal Upadhya Express for the poor with a focus on IT and investment, as "futuristic". The Opposition, however, found it short on specifics and long on listing ‘to-dos'.
Though the Rail Budget was overshadowed by the ongoing debate over students politics - Rohith Vemula's suicide and the JNU row — Opposition leaders, particularly those who have held the Railways portfolios before, made it a point to air their views — RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav to TMC's Dinesh Trivedi, each had something to say.
They picked holes in Prabhu's projects and projections, either on the grounds that he did not explain from where he would generate the funds or on grounds that he was too limited in his ambition — 100 stations among 7,500-odd stations across the country to be Wifi-enabled.
The Opposition, particularly the Congress, seemed impatient with his promise to get clean trains to run on time by 2020. "Why should it take so much time — 2020 — when we are still on 2016. Why just 95 per cent punctuality?" asked former Union Law Minister Ashwani Kumar of the Congress. Kumar, who gave a point-by-point critique of the Rail budget, also claimed that "Suresh Prabhu lacked ideas". However, Lalu took the cake by saying that the "jersey cow (Indian Railways) has seen a rise in the expenditure and fall in the income. The railway was the only sector, which acted as a lifeline for all and the Modi Government has derailed railways." This, obviously, drew flak from the BJP. Party spokesperson Nalin Kohli felt the RJD chief would do better to reduce the 'jungle raj' in Bihar rather than worry about the financial health of the Railways. The states were none too happy, with MPs asking each other what they'd got for their constituencies in terms of new trains or halts.
On the maintenance of fare balance, TMC's Derek O’Brien asked how it mattered if it was not increased now, since it had been increased earlier.
Congress leader and former Railway Minister Mallikarjun Kharge felt that the Budget did not talk about safety of passengers. When asked about Prabhu sparing people from freight and fare hikes, Kharge said the government may have done so keeping in view upcoming assembly polls in several states.