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Sunday, February 28, 2021

Despite Covid-19 year, roads, railways set to achieve new records

The total freight loaded by Railways this month is around 103 million tonnes so far, which is 8.5 per cent more than the comparable period last year.

Written by Avishek G Dastidar | New Delhi |
Updated: January 29, 2021 8:19:48 am
A train is sanitised during the Covid-19 pandemic (File Photo)

In a year that saw almost all economic activities grinding to a halt for months due to the pandemic, infrastructure sectors such as highways and railways are looking to set new performance records.

In the highways sector, an average of 28.56 km per day has been constructed so far this fiscal, slightly more than the 28 km that was built by the end of March last year. From January 8 to 18, the country constructed 547 km of roads. At this rate, the ministry said, that by the end of this fiscal, the average would be at least 40 km per day. So far, around 1,000 km more highways have been built than during the same period last fiscal.

“Years ago, when I first said India would build 40 km of roads per day, people used to laugh. But now we are actually going to see it happen,” Nitin Gadkari, Road Transport and Highways Minister, told The Indian Express.

Government officials said that based on this year’s performance, a huge allocation in the infrastructure sectors, especially highways and railways, is expected in the upcoming Budget, to keep up the momentum of public spending and economic revival.

By the end of January, Indian Railways may end up clocking the highest volume of freight ever loaded by it in a month, either touching or breaking a record set two years ago in March 2018.

The total freight loaded by Railways this month is around 103 million tonnes so far, which is 8.5 per cent more than the comparable period last year. But officials said that going by the outlook for the rest of the month, it is likely to touch 119.7 million tonnes, which was the monthly record set in March 2018.

“In any case, it is and will continue to be more than what it was last year, which is a big deal, all things considered,” said a senior Railway ministry official.

In terms of revenue from freight, the earnings are still around 8 per cent less than last year, at around Rs 93,000 crore. But this month alone, it has earned over Rs 10,000 crore, which is some six per cent more than what it was during January 2020.

To compare the whole year’s performance, the national transporter has moved over 972 million tonnes of freight till now, which is just about one per cent less than what it was by this time last year. Officials claim the figures will scale a new high by the time the financial year ends, crossing well over 1,200 million tonnes.

In the highways sector, one of the measures Gadkari took to enable “unlock” and infuse confidence in the construction space post lockdown was release of funds every month to contractors to give a fillip to their liquidity. The ministry has recently extended the validity of all those relief measures to June 2021.

In Railways, the movement of critical items such as foodgrains, petroleum, coal and the like never stopped even during the lockdown. Besides, the national transporter introduced a series of discounts in freight rates on a large number of commodities and waived traditional season surcharges to attract volumes. This has also resulted in expanding the freight basket to include commodities that otherwise went by road. “This business model has worked and that shows in the numbers,” said the senior Railway official quoted above.

The passenger train service, however, is still down in terms of numbers. Around 70 per cent of long-distance trains are back in service while the earnings in this segment is down by around Rs 9,000 when compared to the same period last year.

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