The 2013 Rail Budget, likely to be the UPA government’s last before the 2014 polls, looks set to steer clear of announcing any new projects — a major departure from the past few rail budgets. Saddled with hundreds of pending projects and mounting losses, the Railway Ministry will instead focus on completing prioritised works, particularly those near completion.
With the ministry back with the Congress after almost 17 years, rather than a regional ally, the budget is also likely to be low on populism (Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal has been hinting at a fare hike).
In a recent communication to general managers of 17 zonal railways, Railway Board Chairman Vinay Mittal called for “surgical intervention” and “a holistic and realistic review of the ongoing works”. He also asked them “to be highly pro-active in... prioritising the ongoing works and (to) sift out the works that are no longer necessary”.
Works must be labelled in descending order of necessity, as (i) Extremely Essential, (ii) Desirable and (iii) Not Required At Present, while formulating the Annual Plan 2013-14, said the communication.
Mittal also stated that the zonal railways “will be expected to propose no new works” ordinarily. “Sanction of new works... should invariably be done through matching deletion of existing sanctions on which work has not commenced yet,” the board chairman said.
The Finance (Budget) Directorate that deals with the preparation of the Rail Budget has also asked zonal railways to keep in mind “constraints of resources”. “Indian Railways has closed two successive years with deficits and a loan had to be taken at a high interest rate to cover the gap,” Railway Board’s Executive Director, Finance (Budget), Jagmohan Gupta recently wrote to all the zones.