Rail Budget 2015 at 12 noon: Suresh Prabhu may steer clear of major populist sops

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New Delhi | Updated: Feb 26, 2015 10:12 AM

Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu's maiden, and NDA government's second, Rail Budget 2015 will be devoid of major populist sops.

Rail Budget 2015, Suresh Prabhu, Rail Budget LiveRail Budget 2015: Union Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu along with his team giving final touches to the Railway Budget 2015-16 on the eve of its presentation in Parliament, at Rail Bhavan in New Delhi. (PTI)

Rail Budget 2015, Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu’s maiden and the NDA government’s second, will be devoid of major populist sops, as talks about raising resources by investing in infrastructure and giving shape to a host of ideas are being pushed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Rather than announcing new projects, it is learnt Prabhu is likely to lay out a plan to finish the capacity-augmentation projects that have the highest rates of return in the Rail Budget to be announced at 12 noon today. (Rail Budget 2015 Full Coverage)

These are mainly projects of doubling and tripling of lines and creating other traffic facilities along 30 identified corridors where pumping in more money means increased income. There are also around 85 non-corridor projects which demand priority.

These have been starved of funds for years. The combined throw forward (money needed to finish them) is around Rs 51,000 crore. Prabhu is likely to allocate some funds for them.

Projects worth Rs 70,000-crore throw forward, on the other hand, are likely to be proposed to be completed with a novel mechanism of creating state-specific centre-state ‘Special Purpose Vehicles’.

By all indications, the Rail Budget is not likely to effect a fare hike.

Railways had been expecting a bigger chunk of money from the national exchequer this time. Sources said an estimated Rs 70,000 crore was sought from the Finance Ministry. Ministry sources said around Rs 40,000 crore was likely to be received. Creation of a separate safety fund from central funds had been under discussions.

The plan size of Prabhu’s budget, as a result, is likely to be one of the highest in recent years — upwards of Rs 80,000 crore — with an elaborate roadmap for raising money from outside as well as generate it internally. The budget is also likely to rely heavily on extra-budgetary resources this year.

Prabhu’s pet subject, securitisation of railway land, is likely to find mention. Prabhu has set a target of increasing freight loading by a steep 15 per cent next fiscal. There is likely to be a plan to augment necessary rolling stock and lines to help achieve that. New trains and new-line surveys will be kept to a bare minimum, sources said.

Swachh Bharat and Make in India, two of the Prime Minister’s pet schemes will find elaborate mentions. Value-added services like creating more wi-fi-enabled stations and trains, a novel “bath and breakfast” package deal for passengers and creation of more rail universities are also likely to be mentioned in the budget, sources said.

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