Rly Budget combines social objectives, viability

Written by ASHOK B SHARMA | New Delhi | Updated: Feb 27 2010, 23:35pm hrs
The Indian Railway Minister, Mamata Banerjee is sensible. Responding to the present situation she has presented a realistic approach to the Railway Budget. Some may call it a populist Budget and corner her for presenting such a Budget with an eye on the forthcoming poll in her home state, West Bengal. But the countrys poor who are reeling under the impact of soaring prices need a healing touch.

Railways with its vast network provide connectivity and cheaper mode of transportation for the common man. Keeping in view this aspect, the minister effected no change in passenger fares. Maxium service charge on e-tickets for sleeper class has been reduced to Rs 10 and that for AC class to Rs 20. The freight rates too witnessed no hikes. Rather she gave the right signal by reducing freight rates by Rs 100 per wagon for foodgrains and kersone for domestic consumption. The reduction is small gesture and signal to others in the government not to increase transportation cost, particularly when there is a move to increase the prices of petroleum products. The Delhi state government should have thought twice before it recently effected about 65% hike in city bus fares and should have done what Ms Banerjee did.

Ms Banerjee has also incorporated the objective of South Asian connectivity by proposing rail links to Bangladesh and Nepal. Rail connectivity to Kashmir and the remote northeastern part of the country will be undertaken. Humble efforts are proposed to address the carbon footprints. Plans are made for achieving social objectives and roping in the private sector in medium and long terms project without privatizing the railways.

The railways would not incur loss. As per the projections of the minister, the gross traffic receipts for the year 2010-11 is estimated at Rs 94,765 crore as against Rs 88,356 crore in the previous year. The net revenue for the railways would be Rs 9,782 crore after meeting the total expenses of Rs 87,100 crore.

In the year 2009-10 which is likely to end by March 31, 2010, the net revenue earning is likely to be Rs 6, 490 crore. After meeting the full dividend liability of Rs 5,539 crore, there will be a balance of Rs 951 crore with the railways.

The focus of the present Budget is not only to ensure connectivity in the country, but also to initiate connectivity in the South Asian region. As a fulfillment of the recent agreement between India and Bangladesh rail connectivity between Akhaura in Bangladesh and Agartala in Tripura would be undertaken. This link would provide a shorter rail route between West Bengal and the northeastern region of the country via Bangladesh. It is also proposed to run a special train in consultation with Bangladesh across the border as a mark of the 150th birth anniversary of Poet Laureate, Rabindranath Tagore who is revered equally in India and Bangladesh.

Surveys for five new lines have been conducted for rail connectivity with Nepal. Out of these lines, it is proposed to take up new line connectivity from Jogbani in India to Biratnagar in Nepal and gauge conversion of Jayanagar in India to Bijalpura in Nepal with extension to Bardibas in Nepal.

The railway minister has also has conceived of Trans-Asian Railway network. It is also decided to invite railway personnel from south and south-east Asian countries for training in institutes in India. The facilities of the Research Design and Standards Organisation will be available for cooperative research and standardization through Asian Railways Association. Indian Railways will be the lead partner of the Commonwealth Games scheduled to be hosted in Delhi in October, this year. It is proposed to run a Commonwealth Exhibition Train.

The Railway Budget has also proposed connectivity to the remotest corners of India. A Master Plan for the development of railway infrastructure in the northeastern region will be drawn up in consultation with the Northeast Development Council and the state governments concerned. In the north-east India, 10 projects have been declared as national projects and adequate funds are being provided. The work on some projects is being delayed due to law and order problem. However, Lumding-Silchar gauge conversion project has been given high priority for expeditious completion. The Byrnihat-Shillong link is also declared as a national project for providing rail connectivity to the capital of Meghalaya.

Kashmir is also a remote part of the country. The Quazigund-Baramulla rail link is partly completed with train services introduced till Anantnag from October 28, 2009. Work on Katra-Quazigund section has begun. Priority is being accorded to the construction of the balance portion of the line from Udhampur to Katra and from Katra to Quazigund.

Expressing concerns over the climate change, the Railway Budget has proposed to introduce at least 10 rakes with green toilets and install on diesel locomotives a GPS-based optimized driver guidance system which has shown 8% to 10% savings in fuel consumption. It is proposed to set up 10 Rail Eco-parks to conserve, protect and promote railways wetlands and forest areas and distribute 2.6 million CFLs. One eco-park at Naopara has been recently inaugurated.

The massive programme for socially desirable connectivity envisaged in the Vision 2020 ductment of the Indian Railways would need adequate funds. The minister has rightly said that the railways has a social responsibility and cannot always think of only commercially viable projects, if our objective is for achieving inclusive growth. What is not viable today, if connected, will become viable tomorrow, she said.

For the first time ever the Indian Railways has planned a major jump to complete 1,000 route-km of new lines in one year with its limited resources.

The goals to be achieved by the railways are planned as per short, medium and long term basis. Short-term goals can be achieved through annual budgets, but for achieving medium and long term goals, adequate funds have to be arranged.

Ms Banerjee intends to go for innovative financing for taking up the task of connectivity for industries, ports, tourist centers, universities, religious places, coal mines. She has sought the help of the prime minister, the finance ministry and the planning commission for speedy clearance of projects and urged the business community to join hands to build partnership with the railways.

A separate structure will be created within the railways for implementation of the business models so that the operation and management of the railways are not disturbed. We are not going for privatization of the railways. It will remain a government organization, she said.

The new business model would invite domestic investment through public-private partnership (PPP) mode in areas like new lines to world class stations, auto hubs to ancillary industries, manufacturing units of rolling stock to multi-model logistic parks, high speed train corridors to port connectivity and multi-level parking to mine connectivity. Air-space at stations in large cities will be leveraged to build multi-level parking complexes through the PPP route. Six bottling plants at Ambala, Amethi, Mal, Nasik, Farakka and Thiruvananthapuram will be set up through PPP mode with the mandate that bottled fresh water will be provided at stations at much cheaper rates.

A new rail axle factory is proposed to be st up in New Jalpaiguri through PPP/joint venture mode. Five state-of-the-art wagon factories will be set up in Secunderabad, Barddhaman, Bhubaneswar or Kalahandi, Guwahati and Haldia on JV/PPP mode. A refrigerated container factory will be set up on PPP mode in Budge Budge. Private operators will be allowed to invest in infrastructure on the lines of container train operators and run special freight trains for automobiles, commodities like vegetable oil, molasses, chemicals and petrochemicals and bulk traffic like fly ash and cement.

The recruitment policy of the Railway Recruitment Board has been reviewed to achieve some social objectives. The question papers for written examinations will be in Hindi, Urdu and the mother tongue of the candidate recognized under the Constitution apart from English. Examination fee has been waived off for women candidates and those belonging to minority and economically backward classes having annual family income less than Rs 50,000.

The minister has announced a number of schemes for the welfare of 1.4 million railway employees, safety and security of passengers, new projects, travel concessions for certain sections of the people and passenger amenities. The Railway Budget has lot of social objectives and is well balanced in meeting its viability options.