Indian media: Railway budget 'litmus test' for government

India's railway system is in urgent need of modernisation Image copyright AFP
Image caption India's railway system is in urgent need of modernisation

Media see the railway budget unveiled in parliament on Tuesday as an indication whether the new government of PM Narendra Modi is serious about introducing radical economic reforms.

The press, however, is divided, with some dailies hailing the "pragmatic approach" of rail minister Sadananda Gowda, while others think his proposals are "disappointing".

Mr Gowda wants foreign investment to be allowed and more private money to help bring India's old railway system into the modern age. He also announced plans for high-speed bullet trains and spoke of the need to improve passenger safety and services.

"Sadananda Gowda used his budget on Tuesday — the first major policy showcasing of the Modi government — to signal its intention of using private sector investments, both domestic and foreign, as the prime engine of growth and modernisation," says the The Times of India.

However, writing in the same paper, blogger Raghu Dayal argues that "the budget was high on intent but falls far short of time-defined plans".

"Modi government's first litmus test," announces the Deccan Chronicle in a headline. The daily also points out that the minister should have "given a timeframe for achieving the amenities and proposals he has made".

The document "was more a vision statement and a measure of his intent for the railways," it concludes.

"Full of ideas, short on substance," says The Hindu in an editorial. "The markets, which expected some major policy announcements, were obviously disappointed, and went south even as Mr Gowda finished his budget speech."

The Business Standard reports that "the railway budget, seen as uninspiring by market players, coupled with profit-booking", had sparked "a huge sell-off", with investors "dumping" shares in the power, real estate and infrastructure sectors.

"If the railway budget is any indication, it is likely the Union Budget will be long on intention and short on action. That is what the market is worried about," Dalton Capital Managing Director UR Bhat tells the paper.

"In the season of the 'bitter pill', both Mr Modi and Mr Gowda refused to play the populist card, to which the financial markets reacted badly, with the Sensex falling over 500 points," comments Deccan Chronicle.

Others in the press also think that the rail minister has done a good job.

"Mr Gowda, you are on the right track," says The Hindu in an editorial. It adds that the "government's maiden railway budget is a realistic assessment of how the railways need to morph in a competitive environment".

"This budget tries to move the Railways from ruinous populism to an ambitious future in which it will be run more like a professional venture than a cheap public transporter in a socialist state," declares The Tribune.

For The Indian Express, Mr Gowda's budget also "comes across as a pragmatic policy statement considering the deep financial mess the railways is in".

India gets 'greener'

In good news for the environment, India's forest cover has increased by 5,871sqkm in the past two years, reports The Times of India.

The findings are part of a government study, the "India State of Forest Report 2013" that was published on Tuesday.

West Bengal state has contributed over 60% of the total rise in the green area while other states such as Orissa, Kerala, Jharkhand and Bihar have also played a role.

But the report says that the green cover in India's north-eastern states has reduced by 627sqkm in 2013.

Mobile app helps police

Meanwhile, police in the capital Delhi will use the WhatsApp messaging application for better coordination in an attempt to curb human trafficking, reports the Hindustan Times.

The paper notes that many minors are trafficked from Delhi and taken to the eastern states of Jharkhand and West Bengal to be used as domestic workers.

The initiative will lead to faster investigation and keep police personnel from various states informed, adds the paper.

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