Railway Budget Speech 10.03.2016

DR. T.N. SEEMA (KERALA): Thank you, Sir, for giving me this opportunity. I think this is going to be my last speech in this august House. So, I take this opportunity to thank my Party, all hon. M.Ps., especially, the hon. Chairman, hon. Deputy Chairman and all hon. Vice-Chairmen, for giving me continuous support in the last six years. Today, I will speak in Malayalam, my mother tongue. I have a request to hon. Minister. Please don’t miss my points just because I speak in Malayalam.

 English version of the original speech made in Malayalam is given below :

Sir, we all appreciate the sincerity and commitment of the Hon. Minister when it comes to studying issues as well as intervening in pertinent matters. But in this Railway Budget, as have been pointed out by many hon. Members, there exists a big gap between the claims and the reality. How to bridge this gap is the issue pointed out by all the Members. All the points highlighted in the budget like infrastructure development, safety and quality of service are all important matters indeed. But the budget does not offer sufficient concrete projects to address all these issues and to fulfill all these goals. Similarly, as the minister himself has pointed out, there are a number of projects which have been pending for a long time or remaining uncompleted even after many years. The big question here is how to complete these projects. The railway budget speaks of completing certain projects by forming Special Purpose Vehicle in association with State Governments. For example, in Kerala there is a project called Thiruvananthapuram-Chengannur suburban train with an estimated cost of Rs 3330.78 crores. This cost is to be borne by both the Railways and the State on a 51:49 ratio. This means that almost half of this cost has to be borne by the State. The State’s share will come to more than Rs. 1500 crores. We need to examine how far it is possible for a State to raise such a big amount. If such projects are not finally materialized, Railways can easily put the blame on the State Governments and take a position that they are not responsible for the failure of the projects. Therefore the Railways should have a roadmap of the priorities of projects in association with the state governments. Safety is, of course, a very important issue. Safety of all passengers in general and women passengers in particular is of great importance. Two- three months before the Honourable Mumbai High Court asked the Railways a few question in the context of a case. When the Court asked what steps they had taken to ensure the safety of women passengers, the Railways’ lawyer replied that they had constituted a committee to examine whether CCTV, toilets and ambulance facilities are properly installed and provided. Responding to this the Honorable High Court asked “why are you constituting committees after committees and not taking any concrete action”? Since 2014, the Honorable Minister is speaking about forming a special women’s wing in the Railway Protection Force. But we should also remember that since 2009 there are references of forming “MahilaVahini’ as a special women’s wing. But the unfortunate fact is that, even after so many years and even after so many incidents of assaults on women, this has not been materialized so far. Now the number of women in RPF is so low. I would request the honorable minister to tell us how he is going to increase the number of women personnel in the Railway Protection Force. The hon. Minister has been speaking about Mobile App for the last two years. In this year’s budget also the same thing is repeated. But the real problem is that none of these things are being implemented. As many of the Honorable members here have already pointed out the safety and security of the Railways are handled by three agencies , namely, District police, Government Railway police and Railway Protection Force. What we see in reality is that when something goes wrong these three agencies blame each other and save themselves from taking any responsibility. There was a suggestion of bringing an amendment in the RPF Act in order to make a single agency in charge of the safety of passengers. It is learnt that the proposal is now under the consideration of the cabinet. I would like to know the progress and the present status of that proposal. I would like to say something about railway accidents too. In the last year also many rail accidents have taken place. Many accidents have taken place in the category of SPAD i.e., Loco pilots Passing Signal at Danger) also. But when such things happen the Railways put the entire onus upon the loco pilots. But there are many other factors like the rest time of the loco Pilots, their duty time and other facilities. We often find that the Railways do not consider these important issues at all. A committee constituted in 2013, namely High power Committee on Duty Hours of loco Running Staff has submitted its report. I would like to ask the honorable minister whether he will examine and consider the recommendations made in that report. The Railways is the biggest State Owned Enterprise in India. If we examine the number of women employees of the Railways, we can see that it is abysmally low. The data of women representation in the Railways is revealing: in the Officers’ group, both group A and group B put together the percentage of women is a mere 8.81%; in Group C staff it is 6.64 %; in Group D staff it is 6.93%. In the entire Railways, the representation of women is a mere 6.70%. What is the obstacle in recruiting women in the Railway staff ? The Standing Committee on Women Empowerment had conducted a detailed study and assessment in this regard. The Committee had also put forward their recommendation on this issue. As many honorable members have pointed out, it does not suffice merely to re-designate ‘coolie’ as ‘ sahayak’ or ‘helper’. It is not sufficient to improve their social status. What is needed is to increase the social security measures for them and I would like to know what concrete action is going to be taken in this regard. Sir, I would also like mention one or two things about the matters related to my state Kerala. Keralites or Malayalees were used to be referred to as ‘Madrasis’. Now there has happened some visible change in that tendency. But as far as Railways are concerned, it seems their map terminates at Chennai. Kerala has been facing continuous neglect from the part of the Railways. We know, the total outlaw for Kerala in the Railway budget 2016-17 has been cut short by rupees 57 crores. I request for a clarification on how this reduction in the outlay has happened and how the objectives will be met with this reduced amount. Kanchikode Coach Factory is a project we started hearing about from 2008. It was heard that the project would be completed under PPP Scheme. A Public Sector Undertaking, SAIL came forward, showing readiness to participate in the project. But there is no reference of that project in this year’s budget. Similarly there has been a consistent demand for forming a Peninsular Railway Zone for Kerala. This also has not found a mention in the Railway budget. Another proposal which has been in the air since 2008 is a Wagon Factory at Cherthala, which incidentally is the native place Honorable Sh. Vayalar Ravi. Cherthala Wagon Factory is a project which has a potential to promote a lot of development activities and also employment opportunities. But nothing has happened so far. Another proposal which has been there for a long time is a Railway Medical College at Thiruvananthapuram. But in the budget there is no mention of that project either. A Water Bottling Plant at Kadaykkavoor has also been proposed in the Railway budget earlier. But no word about that now. Thus we can see a long list of projects and proposals related to Kerala which are uncompleted or not materialized. Every year when we see the list of proposed projects we feel happy, but that happiness is temporary because none of these are going to materialize. Even the new trains announced fail to get started. The boggies in the Kerala bound trains are invariably in extremely bad shape and I fail to understand the reason behind it. Even in trains like Jan Shatabdi going to Kerala, the worst types of boggies are given. Another issue that I wish to bring to the notice of the honorable minister is about the development of Nemom and Kottayam terminals. If these terminals are developed, it will go a big way in reducing the rail traffic. Now the problem is that according to the Southern railway Manager more trains cannot be run without doubling the tracks and installing automatic signaling system. But at the same time no proposals appear in the Railway budget for the installation of automatic signaling system or for the doubling of railway tracks. As you all are aware there are a lot of Keralites working in other states and cities like Delhi and Mumbai. There are also a lot of migrant workers, especially from states like Odisha, Assam etc. working in Kerala. This shows the extreme necessity of running more trains to Kerala from different cities and towns of India. Similarly the much needed modernization like automatic signaling system should also be completed. This year’s budget gives much emphasis on pilgrimage and tourism and I welcome it. But Sabarimala Temple is not accorded the importance it deserves. Similarly, the possibilities linked to pilgrimage need to be further explored in our neighbor state Tamil Nadu also. I conclude by requesting once again that Kerala may be given its due place in the railway map of India. Thank You.