New Delhi, January 25, 2017

Traditionally, presentation of the railway budget has been one of the most significant signposts of the country's parliamentary calendar.

Not only the MPs but an entire nation looked up to the occasion as new trains and projects for the national transporter were announced as a matter of ritual, seen by many as loaded with political motives.

For reasons more than one, the railway budgets have seen much more participation among the MPs, what with every one aspiring for a share in the pie for his constituency back home, so much so that it even edged out the Union budget in terms of political precedence.

But this annual ritual will finally be buried as key policy announcements related to the state-run transporter will be just a small part of finance minister Arun Jaitley's speech when he gets up at 11am in the Lok Sabha on February 1 to present the Modi government's third general Budget and the first since the rail budget was merged with it. The railway budget has lost much of its shine since 2014 when the practice of announcement of new trains, projects, facilities etc in the budget speech itself were dispensed with to avoid highdecibel political acrimony that invariably played out from those who felt left out.

For the past two years, the BJP government tried to de politicise the rail budget by not announcing new trains, stoppages, projects or facilities, but the Modi dispensa tion's decision to discontinue the British-era practice is set to end a key parliamentary practice that aroused much interest. After the merger, there will now be just a few paragraphs related to railways in the FM's speech. The exercise of presenting separate rail budget used to be more glamorous with MPs lobbied for a better deal for their constituency with the minister.

In the past, soon after the presentation of rail budget, political rivals could be seen up in arms alleging neglect of their constituencies and opposition-ruled states. Even retired MPs often made it to the visitors' gallery to listen to the minister's speech.

The discussion on rail budget in Parliament sometimes used to be more engaging and animated than even the general Budget.

But this year is different. The buzz in Rail Bhavan is also missing as ministry officials have to prepare just a twopage note on the railways, which will be part of the FM's speech.

Media crews will also be missing from railway stations and trains. The railways is set to fade away from media glare and scrutiny on the D-Day .Though the decision of merger of the rail budget with general Budget was formally announced by the government in September 2016, it took time to sink in among officials.

[The Times of India]