After 16 years, the government is preparing to infuse extra money into the Railways for critical safety upgrades by creating a special fund — the five-year, Rs 1 lakh crore Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh (RRSK) — granting a long-pending wish of the transporter in the wake of a recent spate of accidents.
The cash infusion has remained on the lengthy wishlist that the Railways has been submitting to the Finance Ministry regularly for years, including during the UPA tenure.
This time, without a separate Rail Budget, the Finance Ministry has given the Railways Rs 55,000 crore for 2017-18 as Gross Budgetary Support — the highest ever. The first tranche of Rs 20,000 crore for the RRSK will be carved out of that, while the rest will be conventional capital expenditure, official sources told The Indian Express.
According to sources, of the Rs 55,000 crore, Rs 15,000 crore will be kept aside for the RRSK. The Railways will have to pump in the remaining Rs 5,000 crore for the year from its own pocket.
In the case of the previous special safety fund — it was named RRSK around a year ago — of Rs 17,000 crore in 2001, the Railways, under Nitish Kumar, had levied safety surcharge on passengers to raise Rs 5,000 crore, with the Finance Ministry granting Rs 12,000 crore. During the course of the six years of that fund, Railways had managed significant safety upgrades — the last time-bound thrust in this area.
The RRSK, too, will primarily be used to clear the backlog of renewal of overaged assets, mostly tracks, signalling systems and bridges.
This time, the Railways had sought around Rs 60,000 crore as Gross Budgetary Support from the government for next year but the request was turned down, with the Finance Ministry initially agreeing to pay Rs 48,000 crore. However, sources said, that was not adequate to set up the special safety fund.
Sources said that with the series of accidents and questionable safety standards dominating the narrative around Railways in the past couple of months, the government at the highest level did not eventually want to be seen as a bystander in the upgrade exercise.
On November 10 last year, 14 coaches of the Indore-Patna Express derailed at Pukhrayan, 60 km from Kanpur, resulting in at least 150 deaths. Just a month later, 15 coaches of the Ajmer-Sealdah Express derailed, again near Kanpur, injuring at least 50 passengers. Both the accidents were suspected to have been caused by fractures in the tracks.
Sources said the safety upgrade will take five years of dedicated approach in “mission mode”.