Time to get the wish lists out and take stock of whether or not Pawan Kumar Bansal and his team are on the same wavelength as an ordinary Mumbaikar. One desire that has been fruitlessly accommodated in their lists by both the city’s aam aadmi and the pundit over the past few years is accordance of the status of a separate zone to the suburban train network. Today, members of parliament (MPs) representing Mumbai will put forth this demand ahead of the presentation of Railway Budget 2013-14.
“Mumbai deserves to get more consideration from the rail ministry, which earns one-third of its total revenues from the suburban system. There is a need for a separate budget allocation for the city’s local train network,” said MP Sanjay Nirupam, who has promised to raise this point. Nirupam, whose constituency is North Mumbai, says he has already asked Western Railway (WR) to create model stations out of the ones at Borivli, Dahisar, Kandivli and Malad, which are frequented by commuters, and provide better amenities.
Lok Sabha member from South Central Mumbai Eknath Gaikwad too wants special attention for the city. “Separate endowment from the railway budget to Mumbai is essential, as the suburban network acts as lifeline for lakhs of people every day. Also, adequate facilities aren’t provided to them, to rectify which money is required,” he said.
Several multi-crore projects are being planned in Mumbai, but railway authorities claim dearth of funds is forcing them to go slow. Due to the economic slowdown and no hike in rail tariffs over the last few years, the organisation has struggled to even pay private contractors carrying out maintenance and other essential works on the suburban section.
“Specific attention should be accorded to the train operations on suburban sections in both Western and Central Railways. Primary services like clean water and toilets cannot be provided at many places because of financial crunch,” said Priya Dutt, MP from Mumbai North Central.
Erstwhile union railway minister Ram Naik too feels that funding is a concern for a city like Mumbai when it comes to operating the suburban section. “Isolating the Mumbai local network is an old issue, to deal with which a body like Mumbai Rail Vikas Corporation (MRVC) exists. However, there is need for ample financial support, which is yet to happen due to lack of political will,” he said. Naik claims that several things were announced in the last rail budget without taking into account the financial provisions for the same.
Meanwhile, railway experts feel that there are operational difficulties in separating Mumbai from rest of the train system. “It is not feasible to separate the suburban system of Mumbai. Rather, we should create a policy for local networks that can tackle specific issues like passenger amenities,” said RN Verma, former general manager, WR.
Senior railway officials also claim that according independent status to the suburban section is nothing but tall talk, as it only translates into altering the working of an existing system that has not created problems, though it might be a bit tardy. “We don’t know whether or not such a huge system will operate smoothly once isolated. Instead, the funding pattern could be changed,” said a senior railway official.
PC Sehgal, former managing director, MRVC, said, “A policy should be prepared for suburban system that would enable its self-sustainable functioning. Even the state government can look at providing subsidies and resources for suburban operations.” Experts feel that the best way to reduce congestion is by running 15-car trains that would provide 33 per cent more capacity than the existing 12-car services.
Items on agenda
Other issues to be raised by these MPs:
Security for women
More Rajdhani trips from Mumbai and additional AC trains on routes where demand is more, namely Mumbai-Ahmedabad, Mumbai-Pune, and
Making arrangements to reduce trespassing-related mishaps on tracks and improving hospitalisation facilities
Better parking services outside stations and commercial utilisation of railway land to increase revenue