Speaking to The Financial Express, railway minister Nitish Kumar said, A pessimistic approach cannot work. The economic slowdown is not going to last forever and, therefore, we need to continue building our infrastructure.
Mr Kumar said that so far the Railways were undertaking 100-125 km of works annually but now it was required that there should be a manifold increase in the figures.
He said that the stress for the next five years as also in the Railway Budget for 2002-3 would be on augmentation of existing infrastructure and expansion of rail network.
Stating that 90 per cent of the freight and passenger traffic is concentrated on the Golden Quadrilateral connecting Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and Mumbai and its diagonals, he said that priority would be given to augment capacity on these routes.
On whether laying lines just for the sake of increasing network without a simultaneous increase in freight harm the Railways finances, he said, Whether investment should precede volumes or volumes will come before investment in capacity enhancement is made, is a chicken and egg case.
He cited the instance of China where the government is going for massive expansion of rail network in western and northern regions.
The minister said projects so far were taken up only through budgetary support since the Railways could not contribute in capital fund. He said asset renewals have suffered because adequate allocation in the depreciation reserve fund (DRF), which finances such renewals, has not been made.
Though safety related arrears have been taken care of through the Special Safety Fund, we have decided that from this Budget onwards current rising on account of arrears will be met from the DRF.
...manages to save Rs 1,000cr
As per the last Railway Budget, the Railways was able to save about Rs 850 crore in 1999-2000 through austerity while it saved Rs 865 crore in 2000-1. According to railway minister Nitish Kumar, the Rs 1,000-crore saving so far has been possible by plugging various loopholes in the system besides stricter vigilance.
He also said that the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) will bring in a profit of Rs 30-35 crore this year. He said that entire catering operations would be transferred to IRCTC by March 2002.