In a marked departure from past Rail Budgets, the NDA government, in its first year, has refrained from announcing a bouquet of sops, focussing instead on measures like private investments — both domestic and foreign — to bring the Railways back on track.
Having already effected a 14.2 per cent increase in passenger fares and 6.5 per cent increase in freight rates last month, no fresh revision of fares was announced. Instead, the government proposed private and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) to meet the resource crunch.
Presenting his first Rail Budget on Tuesday, Railways Minister D V Sadananda Gowda said the FDI policy will be tweaked to allow foreign investors to park their money in the rail sector. The hitherto unremunerative PPP policy will also be changed to make it more attractive for private companies. The minister uttered the term “PPP” 12 times in various contexts related to increasing earnings.
Setting the tone at the onset of his speech, Gowda said the manner in which the Indian Railways has been governed would not work anymore. In a scathing criticism of his predecessors, he said Railways’ investments had been “misdirected” and the “tariff policy adopted lacked rational approach”.
He made it clear that since the department does not have any funds, he had decided to go for a “near Plan holiday”. “I am sure my esteemed predecessors were aware of this precarious situation. But they, however, fell prey to the nasha (intoxication) of claps in the House when they announced these projects,” said Gowda.
The government did not announce any new projects. Instead, funds have been allocated for ongoing projects which are either in advanced stages of completion or are required for capacity building. Thirty such projects needed for capacity augmentation have been listed, for which the Railways has set aside Rs 2,200 crore. These do not include the works accorded “national project” status, funded through gross budgetary support. There are a total of 362 ongoing projects.
The number of surveys for new lines has been restricted to 18, doubling and gauge conversion to only 10 lines. However, Gowda announced 58 new trains, over and above the new trains already announced in the Interim Budget in February.
The Plan outlay of Rs 65,445 crore, an increase of Rs 6,086 crore over the revised estimates of Rs 59,359 of 2013-14, is the highest ever. The allocation to sanitation-related activities has been hiked by 40 per cent and safety-related upgrade by 12 per cent over the previous budget.
Signalling internal reforms, Gowda indicated that the Railway Board may see structural changes as its current structure is “unwieldy”.
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The parties concerned have been directed to submit reports on the current status of construction.