NEW DELHI: Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu is likely to strike a fine balance between populist measures and course correction to put the cash-strapped railways back on track in his maiden rail budget on Thursday. While passenger fares are unlikely to be slashed despite a drop in global fuel prices, a limited number of new railway projects and trains would be announced as Prabhu wants to first complete over 360 pending rail projects, while passengers may expect more measures for better amenities and improved safety on board.
“We have tried our best to fulfill people’s aspirations and expectations in the budget though the Railways is passing through hard times,” Prabhu said while giving finishing touches to the rail budget.
The Railways at present spends 94 paise out of every rupee earned, leaving only 6 paise as surplus. This surplus is continuously on the decline due to non-revision of fares. The surplus, after paying obligatory dividend and lease charges, was Rs 11,754 crore in 2007-08 and is estimated to be Rs 602 crore in 2014-15. The Railways got the highest-ever plan outlay of Rs 65,445 crore in 2014-15.
Prabhu, a chartered accountant, is well versed with economic principles and that is likely to reflect in the rail budget. According to a senior Railway Ministry official, the budget this time will be rather tight on populist measures and emphasis will be on generating extra revenue through innovative measures. To allow money to flow through FDI and PPP, the minister may announce relaxation of certain norms and setting up of a single window clearance system.
Other measures include branding of trains and stations like Coca Cola Rajdhani Express, advertisement-wrapped trains and better use of space at railways stations and inside trains.
A committee constituted by Prabhu suggested that the Railways has the potential to earn Rs 10,000 crore a year just by selling space for advertising in coaches, wagons and stations among others.
On the passenger amenities front, 8,000 railway stations in smaller cities will be developed, while the launch of women passenger helpline, cleanliness, catering, linen, ease of access to booking information and tickets are among other measures. Green initiatives like water conservation, switching to alternate fuel and waste to energy projects may be announced in the rail budget.
Modi mantra to find prime place
PM Narendra Modi’s pet projects Make in India, Swachh Bharat and skill development are expected to find a place in the rail budget with Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu likely to make announcements in each of these areas.