As Dinesh Trivedi presents his first Railway Budget on Wednesday,ways to deal with severe fund crunch,safety of passengers,welfare of staff,and sanctioning of works would be the key focus areas.
The Railways is likely to sanction 900-odd works to consolidate its existing infrastructure in this years budget. Another 500-odd similar works,proposed by the zonal railways,are unlikely to make it to the budget for want of funds. In a major departure from earlier budgets,the ministry is learnt to have decided against including any of the 1,300-odd new works,all costing under Rs 20 crore each,which had been proposed by the zonal railways,in the final budget document.
Currently,a staggering 50,000 works,costing Rs 6.32 lakh crore,are in progress across the country. The ministry is likely to appropriate around Rs 8,600 crore to execute 900 works of which 320 relate to the construction of railway over bridges/ under bridges and level crossings. As much as Rs 3,761 crore is likely to be sanctioned for ROB/RUBs,another 475 crore is expected to be given for level crossing works. Covering 3,000-odd km under the Train Protection Warning System is also likely to be announced.
With traffic facilities and doubling works high on its agenda,the ministry is likely to sanction 11 major doubling projects costing around Rs 1,800 crore and 69 traffic facilities costing Rs 500 crore. Sixty works related to bridges and 104 signaling and telecom works are likely to get the nod at a combined cost of Rs 890 crore.
Significantly,only 40-odd works related to passenger amenities,costing around Rs 75 crore,are likely to be cleared. In contrast,Railways is likely to include 47 works,costing around 89 crore,for providing amenities to its own staff. Another Rs 100 crore may be sanctioned for staff quarters.
Officials say that safety is going to be a hallmark of Trivedis budget. Key routes of 19,000 km (trunk routes like Delhi-Mumbai,Delhi-Howrah,etc) are expected to see allocation in terms of increasing the axle load so that heavier weights can be carried faster.
Ministry sources said that under pressure to finance safety-related upgrade,there have been talks of a surcharge,with adequate safeguards for financially poor passengers the clientele of unreserved and sleeper classes. The pressure on Trivedi to chalk out a roadmap for funds generation is immense,given that his calls for a helping hand from the Finance Ministry by way of a 100 per cent increase in last years Gross Budgetary Support of Rs 20,000 crore has not found many takers in government.
The three possible models of a fare rationalisation prepared by the ministry are a dynamic de-linking of fuel hikes from fares to save Railways from the variable impact which is 28 per cent in the current fare structure,a rounding off of existing fares to the next whole number,and surcharge in the name of modernisation and safety,funds for which are as good as nil right now.
In their various communications to the Railways,the Planning Commission and Finance Ministry have stressed fare rationalisation. Recently,two high-level expert committees,one on safety,headed by nuclear scientist Anil Kakodkar,and the other on modernisation,chaired by technocrat Sam Pitroda,have advocated a surcharge on fares for additional mop-up to fund critical upgrade.