Union railway minister Sadananda Gowda today presented Rail Budget 2014-15 in the Lok Sabha that provides little for populism but incorporates some bold plans to improve the service - a lifeline of 23 million Indians everyday.
Railways, he said, will play a role in building a dynamic India, aiming to make the country the largest freight transport network in the world. "There are tracks of hinterland that are not connected," Gowda said.
"Railways are carrying 31 per cent of total freight currently. Railways carried 1.3 billion tonnes of freight last year. It is growing rapidly," Gowda said.
In his maiden rail budget, the railway minister has adopted a more realistic approach in announcing new trains, lines and survey in view of the cash crunch of Rs26,000 crore. While many unviable projects were scrapped, he announced some new projects on a priority basis in the Rail Budget 2014-15.
Gowda proposed market borowing of Rs11,790 crore for Railways in the current fiscal.
He also sought cabinet approval for foreign direct investment in the modernisation and expansion of India's dilapidated railway system.
"Every citizen of India is rushing to connect with Indian Railways. I am flooded with requests for new trains," Gowda said. The fare revision was tough but a necessary decision - it will bring Indian Railways additional revenue of 8,000 crores, he added
Ahead of the rail budget, Gowda had said that he cannot promise an immediate smile for the common man.
"Going to present my maiden budget as a @RailMinIndia minister today. Hope we are able to meet public expectations," Gowda tweeted.
The rail minister, however, indicated that bullet trains and semi-high speed trains are in the pipeline, although not so soon. These, he said while speaking to Doordarshan, ''are not possible within a year or two but we should look into that direction".
On the other hand, Gowda has promised the possible, like focusing on amenities for commuters that will benefit the country over the long run by creating jobs and helping businesses.
Gowda had already made it clear after assuming charge that his focus will be on safety, security and speed.
The Railway Budget 2014-15 is growth-oriented with strategies to mobilise alternative sources of funding to modernise and upgrade the crucial logistics sector.
The Indian Railways is saddled with a huge cash crunch of Rs26,000 crore amidst a decline in the growth in passenger earnings.
The new government has already increased railway passenger fares by 14.2 per cent and the freight carriage charges by 6.5 per cent. However, it will need more funds from international lenders to back long gestation projects.
With the growth in passenger earnings declining, Railways has to look for new strategy to earn additional revenue to reach the target in the current fiscal.
Indian Railways is poised to become the largest freight carrier in the world. Indian railways require Rs5,00,000 crore each year for the next ten years for ongoing projects alone, he said, adding that he would rayher focus on projects that need urgent attention and completing ongoing projects than engaging in more projects at the cost of efficient utilisation of resources.
Populist projects and mismanagement have brought Railways to point of funds crunch. This state of affairs in railways needs immediate course correction, he said.
Highlights of the Rail Budget 2014-15:
- FY15 total expenditure pegged At Rs1,49,000 crore
- FY15 total receipts pegged at Rs1,64,000 crore
- Propose to hike budgetary plan outlay to Rs47,650 crore
- FY15 passenger fare revenue pegged at Rs44,600 crore
- Gross traffic receipts in 2013-14 was Rs1,30,000 crore, operating ratio was 94 per cent
- Indian Railways spent Rs41,000 crore on laying of 3,700 km of new lines in last 10 years
- Need to explore alternative sources of resource mobilisation and not depend on fare hike alone
- Large part of the budget outlay to go to safety projects
- Maximum financial outlays for projects slated for completion in this area itself
- High priority areas - safety, cleanliness, passenger amenities and capacity augmentation
- Future projects to be financed on public-private partnership model
- Plans to attract investment from domestic and foreign players in infrastructure; focus to be on aggressive indigenisation
- Pre-cooked meals by reputed brands, focus on cleanliness and passenger feedback
- Outsource cleaning activities at 50 major stations, separate housekeeping wing for cleanliness and sanitation
- CCTVs to be used for monitoring cleanliness
- RO drinking water at stations and trains
- Corporates encouraged to adopt stations for better maintenance and upkeep
- Railway Protection Force to add 17,000 personnel
- Introduction of women RPF constables, coaches meant for women to be escorted for greater safety
- Indian Railways on course to fulfill its long cherished dream - first Bullet train on the Ahmedabad-Mumbai sector
(See: Railway Budget highlights}