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Newspapers and channels covering rail budget would be missing some obvious headlines this time – ‘… neglected in rail budget’, ‘…presents populist budget’, ‘no new trains for …’ etc. Maximum thrust of rail budgets in the past used to be on fares – either reduction or hike – and new trains. The clichés are out, even in political reactions. Former Railways minister Dinesh Dwivedi of the Trinamool Congress wondered how to react, “because there is no budget in this budget”! Common people did not understand it either. Can there be any budget without announcement of new trains? The Narendra Modi-led NDA government has tried to be different by according less priority to announcement of new trains. According to the Railways minister Suresh Prabhu, trains will be announced in due course of time.

This is for the first time thrust area of any rail budget is the facilities for consumers. SMS service on train arrival and departure, ticket in five minutes and mobile charging facility are some facilities which matter a lot for the passengers. Prabhu and his team might have identified the new needs of consumers. He might have realised that just announcing new trains and reducing fares would not satisfy a fast-changing nation. The ever-increasing number of service-conscious people is likely to welcome the new facilities, if they become a reality.

Political considerations have always influenced the railway budget among other things. Bihar got a lot of new trains and new lines sanctioned during the tenures of Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar as Railway minister. So was West Bengal when Mamata Banerjee donned the post. Their first priority used to be securing their respective electoral bases. Suresh Prabhu might be an unpopular figure in Mumbai today for not announcing any new train for his home city where lakhs of people travel on the iron wheels every day. But, relax Mumbaikars, Prabhu is India’s Railway minister first, and then an elected representative from Maharashtra! If the overall services are improved as he promised, Maharashtra should not punish him in the next election. But this is India where people react to words more than action. ‘Prabhu’ (god) bless Prabhu!

(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on February 27, 2015)