Rail Budget 2014: Mallikarjun Kharge's tightrope walk between sops and performance

Written by Avishek G Dastidar | New Delhi | Updated: Feb 12 2014, 15:42pm hrs
Railway Budget 2014Railways Minister Mallikarjun Kharge pose while giving final touches to the interim Rail Budget at Rail Bhavan in New Delhi. (PTI)
As the finishing touches to the Interim Railway Budget, the last to be presented by the UPA II government on Wednesday, get underway, the transportation behemoth continues to battle mounting losses and deteriorating standards with no solution out of the situation. (Read: Expect no railway fare cut)

Despite the multiple fare revisions, it is staring at an overall resource gap of over Rs 8,000 crore including around Rs 5,000 crore in the passenger segment alone. Its operating expenses has gone up by over Rs 1,000 crore when compared with last years estimates. Dwindling earnings has meant that the money needed to repair and renew its assets have gone down by almost Rs 1,000 crore.

The revenue shortfall is upwards of Rs 6,000 crore. Its operating ratio has touched upwards of 90 per cent. Operating ratio is money spent to earn every Rs 100, lower the figure, the better. By its own admission, progress towards higher earnings is lower than its ballooning expenditure.

When Union railway minister Mallikarjun Kharge rises to present his budget on Wednesday, he would not have a rosy picture to show.

With the general elections nearing, he is expected to walk a tightrope between keeping a few of the existing projects afloat and announcing a few new ones.

Premium trains with dynamic pricing are expected to be announced for the busiest routes. Whether Kharge decides to levy the periodic fuel adjustment component on passenger fares the exercise is due in April is to be seen. The idea of increasing the speed of the existing trains to upwards of 200 km is also likely to find mention. Safety is expected to be a key word in the budget speech with provisions for better fire-safety measures in trains in the wake of a spate of on-board fires. A new special safety fund seeking contribution from the Central coffers could also mind mention.

With a likely gross budgetary support in the region of Rs 30,000 crore for national projects and the Dedicated Freight Corridor, Railways is once again expected to be left fending for itself to run regular operations including salaries and pensions both of which have seen an unforeseen jump in the past year.