Dinesh Trivedi’s Railway Budget was daring. Mainly because he dared to try to save the Railways by increasing fares, which did not go down well with his boss who believes in populism, but that is another story. He also dared to depart from other Railway Ministers by laying out a roadmap and concrete plan for the revival and modernization of the Railways while being frugal with doling out goodies. While no one got any new Rajdhanis, Shatabdis or Durontos, a large share of the 75 new trains went to his state of West Bengal, adjoining Bihar, Jharkhand and Assam and Rajasthan. I agree the Railways is a national asset and not of any state, but in that case the nation should benefit equally and proportionately, and not skewed as it is now. While the Northern parts of the country were given goodies in dollops, the Southern big three were given large spoonfulls and in the end, Kerala gets a few remaining crumbs. This show that is repeated again and again every year repeated this year too to no one’s surprise. Kerala and the population of Malayalees continue to be made a bunch of jokers by the Railways, as they know that this tiny state and its people on the tip of the country does not matter at all.
Ignored, Neglected, Brushed Aside, Disregarded and so on.
While all other states walked away their baskets full of goodies this year, ONLY Kerala had to return empty-handed with nothing at all. No new daily trains within the state. No train to Mumbai or Delhi. No new train to Bangalore. No capacity enhancements or infrastructure upgradation. No fixed deadlines or substantial cash for doubling and electrification projects. No new line sanctions. NOTHING AT ALL! As it always was since forever, Kerala was given the crumbs of the leftovers which the entire country had eaten. We beg and cry all the time from Delhi to Madras, but all for nothing.
In the previous couple of years, the ministers kept up a facade of “maybe we care” to eyewash the public with ridiculous and hollow offerings like water bottling plans, mechanized laundry somethings, bit fund allocations and repetition of what they had offered during the years before. And fancy trains that wouldn’t start running until years after. But this year in his no-nonsense budget, Trivedi did away with all this and laid things bare. But the charade of repeating previous years’ promises continued. “Yeah, that is enough for them. They don’t matter”. Be it Mullaperiyar or Railways. In the end, we got the alms of 1 new weekly train, 1 train frequency increase and one and a half MEMUs.
The Kochuveli – Bangalore Daily Express
The long standing demands of Bangalore Malayalees to have another daily train from Bangalore to Trivandrum saw the light of the day finally and is the single and only achievement for Kerala in this budget, even though it is just a frequency increase of the 16315/16316 Kochuvali – Bangalore – Kochuveli Express and not a new train. This poses another problem. The SBC – KCVL run of the KCVL Express is on a shared time slot with the two Ernakulam Superfasts, and the return trip is shared with the TVC – SBC weekly. Either the time slot of this one will be changed entirely, or that of the other three will be. However, there lies a danger. They might not hesitate to cancel the Ernakulam Superfasts citing the new daily, if past incidents are anything to learn from. The Malabar area again was completely neglected and there is scope for atleast two more daily trains from the city to the south of Kerala. All other demands including the “dailification” of the Garib Rath were stupendously ignored.
The Kochuveli – Yeshwantpur Weekly AC Express
Yay! Another train from Bangalore to Trivandrum! But this is again a joke with the “Weekly” business. And if anyone thinks that this train was started because of the Railways’ love for Kerala, think again. The train is introduced most probably to fully utilize the rakes of the Yeshwantpur – Ahmedabad AC Express, announced in the budget before but is yet to start running. But no complaints, better an AC Express with usual coaches becuase this will start running earlier, as soon as the ADI – YPR starts. Hopefully this will include a 1st Class AC coach and run via Kottayam. If you remember, the TVC – Chennai Duronto announced in the last budget has not started running yet because Duronto coaches are hard to come by, so an AC Express any day than a Duronto. But weekly!
The One-and-a-Half MEMUs
Ernakulam – Trissur and Palakkad – Coimbatore – Erode. The MEMUs announced in the last budgets are yet to see the light of the day, with rakes brought in for this apparently being called back to Chennai by our Railway overlords. When these will start running is anybody’s guess.
The Coimbatore – Bikaner Express, Tirunelveli – Dadar Expresses
Of course there cannot be a railway budget without a train from Kerala to some random town in Gujarat being announced, though this starts from Coimbatore and goes to Rajasthan, bit via Gujarat anyway. The Tirunelveli business is getting quite tiresome and all these sundry weekly trains (again, started for Rake utilization) do absolutely nothing to lessen the travel burden of the average Malayali who wants to go from Chengannur to Kottayam or from Tirur to Kozhikode. But the Dadar train is be a sliver of relief for those traveling to Mumbai.
As it is every year, a truck load of surveys for new lines are announced in Kerala so that railway officials from all over the country can have a nice vacation for a couple of months in God’s Own Country at the expense of the Railways. This year it is the Chengannur – Trivandrum line and some other stupid spur, both which will never materialize. What the state urgently needs are the Thalasserry – Mysore line and the Nanjangud – Nilambur lines. All that is ancient history. So seems is the Sabari line as well. Only 200 km of line have been newly laid in Kerala since independence.
In fact, how can you run new trains when you don’t have the capacity to run them? All of Kerala’s Railway lines are saturated beyond their capacity. The Kottayam line runs at 200% and the Alappuzha line at 130% saturation. The Ernakulam – Trissur line needs a third or even fourth line and modern signaling systems. All trains on this trunkest of all trunk stretches run at reduced speed and are most often delayed. Same goes for the Kollam – Kayamkulam stretch. All these lines need to be upgraded and improved. They have allotted a pittance of 168 Crores for all this, which will barely be enough to pay off existing bills. No calls to expedite or commitments given on when the farce called the Kottayam line doubling which started almost 10 years ago. This oversaturated line is the lifeline of the state. Same goes for the doubling and electrification of the Shoranur – Mangalore line. There is no mention about the Punalur – Chenkotta and Palakkad – Pollachi Gauge conversions other than “Will be done”
The Nemom and Kottayam coaching terminals have been successfully re-promised in this budget also. The Kanjikode rail factory which was first promised in 2007 has not even produced a pane of glass, forget a whole coach. All other promises like Windmill farms can best be dismissed as jokes. No effort has been made to solve the capacity and congestion problem at Trivandrum Central, which cannot handle any trains anymore.
Include here the extension of the Mangalore – Thiruvananthapuram Parasuram Express to Nagercoil in Kanyakumari district, TN, and the new Mangalore – Palakkad Intercity to Coimbatore. So Kerala loses two more trains to the TN lobby.
So in the end, the Railways have successfully made a laughing-stock out of Kerala again. Compare this with the neighboring states. Tamil Nadu, which hosts the Southern Railway which Kerala is also a crummy part of, makes sure that the lion’s share of revenues and projects go to TN, though it is Kerala which generates revenue. Tamil Nadu gets a total of 14 new trains, 4 major electrification projects, 4 new lines to be commissioned this year, 6 doubling projects (including one for a 4th line), a host of surveys and so on. The new trains include 10 Expresses including the brand new Non-stop AC double Decker Express to be run Chennai – Bangalore, 2 Passenger services, 1 MEMU and 1 DMU. Karnataka did even better with 10 Express trains, 3 passenger trains, 3 new lines, electrification of almost all lines in the state, a host of surveys and doubling works to be completed this year.
Try to take any train within Kerala, no matter if it is a local or an ultra long-haul Express during any time of the day, it will be jam-packed to the brim. Road transport has its limitations given the population density of 820 people per square km, hence trains are the preferred means of transport for the masses. And the mostly overlooked fact remains that people here actually take tickets before traveling, even while in general unreserved coaches, estimated at 80% while it is the other way around in most of the other places in the country. Attesting to this fact is that the Palakkad and Thiruvananthapuram divisions are the ones giving the largest amount of revenue to the Southern Railway. But the railways are interested in only milking this cash cow and providing the benefits to other parts of the country where people don’t even take tickets.
A separate Railway Zone for Kerala has been a cry for quite some time but has been that has been repeatedly thumbed down by politicians and bureaucrats saying “Railway zones for a state alone cannot be created”. In that case, why do many states have their own zones? If Karnataka (SWR), AP (SCR), Orissa (ECoR), Tamil Nadu (SR), Rajasthan (NWR), Bihar (SCR) and even Chattisgarh (SECR) can have their own zones, why can’t Kerala have one? (WB, MH, MP and UP are serviced by more than one zone). A new zone will help put pressure on the center directly, while here officials have to run from pillar to post trying to please the lords in Chennai begging for a bit of funds for any development for Kerala and Malayalees.
Why all this Kolaveri Dey?
Why this negligence? Once outside Kerala, Malayalees are known to be docile and keep their heads down and mouths shut. And the Railways know this. They also know that as long as the capacity and Rail infrastructure in Kerala are not increased, new trains and projects cannot be started. So they go slow on this. In the mean time, those funds can be allotted to other parts of the country at the state’s expense. How else can you justify a rail track doubling project involving 115 km taking 10 years to complete 25 km? Add to this the state’s political irrelevance with just 20 MPs who do not make any difference, given the political conditions.
Also, why just blame the Railways? They do what they are told to do. There is absolutely no efforts from our elected representatives to do anything for the state. In fact, seeing the neglect Kerala receives when it comes to central projects, it looks like they work hard so that we do NOT get any benefits. They wake up 2 weeks before the budget and rush to Delhi sperately with a laundry list of new trains they want for their own constituencies, without any plans for the overall development of the state. The Railway Minister had come to Kerala and held a roundtable with the CM and others, asking what the demands are. Even then we could not wrestle anything from him! Plans for the Budget are finalized 3-4 months before itself. No one has a vision on what to do and where to go. They then make some noise crying “Cold shoulder”, “Neglected”, “Apathy” and so on after the milk is spilled and then vanish again, only reappear when they have some political ends to meet. Also, the Railway Minister read out the name of states that co-operated with the Railways on projects, and said these projects would get precedence. Kerala was obviously not among them.
Progress keeps bypassing Kerala, but we keep mum. And it will continue this way, as there is no hope, no tunnel and no light. Let us keep begging. Oh I almost forgot. The joke of the Bullet Train. Hah. Does anyone seriously believe that a government which cannot accomplish the extension of a passenger train will build a High Speed Railway line? What a joke.
(Originally published in 2012 March. Re-posted from another blog of mine)