Calling the Public Private Partnership mode a “necessity”, Railway Minister Sadananda Gowda on Tuesday countered the apprehension over FDI in railways and said it will help projects like high-speed corridors and freight corridors.
Gowda, replying to the rail budget discussions in the Rajya Sabha, said the bullet trains and similar projects would be funded through bilateral agreements and FDI without putting any burden on the common man. The rail budget was approved by the House though voice vote. “There need not be any apprehension that FDI would do some harm. FDI will be brought in such a manner that it will be used only in infrastructure development and not in operations,” Gowda said. He said the growth in railway infrastructure will fuel the growth of manufacturing in the country.
On the criticism by various parties over 14.2 per cent hike in passenger fare and 6.5 per cent increase in freight charges effected ahead of the rail budget, the minister said it was the decision of the previous UPA government which the current dispensation implemented.
Earlier in the day, a strong pitch was made in Rajya Sabha for doing away with the rail budget with a few members feeling that it was a colonial era practice not relevant anymore.
“…The railway budget is a colonial idea whose time is over. Today, railway expenditure accounts for only six per cent of the general expenditure of the government…Why should we have a separate budget for the railways?,” said Congress’s Jairam Ramesh.
He suggested that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Gowda give a “serious thought” to the idea of abolishing the separate budget for the railways. The demand received support from BJP’s Rangasayee Ramakrishna, who hoped that the Modi government will do away with this practice in the next two to three years. “We should do away with this practice of the colonial era… we should go for corporatisation of the railways for performing different tasks such as looking after maintainence of railway stations,” he said. Ramesh held the separate budget as “the root cause” of the financial disaster in the railways and said as long as the practice remains, the turnaround of the railways was not possible.
Contending that the rail budget offers nothing new, the Congress said it is just a copy of UPA’s budget and looks like fresh only because of “packaging” in which “we are zero, you (NDA) are hero”.
Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad, without naming Prime Minister Narendra Modi, said, “You have experience of running a state. But running a federal government is a difficult task.”
Sources said Ashish Khetan will be the vice-chairman of the commission.