Priority for high-speed trains, FDI

D.V. Sadananda Gowda’s maiden Railway Budget focussed on unveiling the Modi Government’s plans for a massive facelift of the railways sector over the coming years

With the passenger fare hike having been effected just last month, the Railway Budget focussed on unveiling the Modi Government’s plans for a massive facelift of the railways sector over the coming years through bullet and semi high-speed trains, extensive makeover of stations and, for the first time, foreign direct investment (FDI) in the railways to fund these plans estimated at Rs. 9 lakh crores.

Tabling his first Budget before Parliament, Railway Minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda indicated the enormity of the task at hand by pointing out that the much criticised rail fare hike would net the railways only Rs. 8,000 crores annually whereas the railways requires steady infusion of at least Rs. 50,000 crores every year for the next 10 years.

The Rail Budget also outlined plans for incremental improvement of existing passenger amenities and greater domain awareness about the functioning of railways mainly by large scale stepping up of computerisation of its major functions.

Mr. Gowda also gladdened hearts in the North East by declaring a 54 per cent higher allocation which will speed up ongoing work and provide the first-ever rail connectivity to the states of Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya.

Mr. Gowda had good tidings for the recently bifurcated states of Andhra Pradesh and Telengana by promising to speed up the ongoing projects. He also announced nearly 1,000 more local trains for Mumbai. In fact, 10 MPs from Mumbai had forced the Government to roll back the fare hike for short distance commuters as Maharashtra will go to polls later this year.

Despite this roll back, the Railway Minister signalled his impatience with uninhibited populism by declaring that additional stoppages for trains will be tried out for three months and alternatives explored if the demand was not much. “If this trend continues, most of our express trains will become passenger trains,’’ he cautioned.

In keeping with the ambitious plans unveiled by Mr Gowda, the hike in the annual plan was a modest Rs 5,000 crores ore than the Rs 60,000 crores unveiled in the previous Government’s interim Budget.

This “highest ever plan outlay’’ will include market borrowings of Rs 11,790 crores, internal resources of Rs 15,350 crores, public private partnerships (PPP) of Rs 6,005 crores and a safety fund of Rs 2,200 crores. According to the Budget Estimates, total receipts are projected at Rs 1,64,374 crores while total expenditure at Rs 1,49,176 crores. Operating ratio or the expenditure for every 100 rupees spent is expected to be 92.5 per cent, an improvement of 1 per cent over the last fiscal.

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