Budget 2015: Suresh Prabhu promises green, clean Indian Railways

With measures to boost solar power generation and water conservation, budget has been termed “futuristic and technology-driven”

 
By Anupam Chakravartty
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

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Union Minister for Railways Suresh Prabhu, in his first Railway budget, has called for a slew of environment-friendly measures to upgrade the services offered by the Indian Railways. Along with modernisation and safety measures, the minister has envisaged an investment of Rs 8.5 lakh crore in next five years to finance the measures through multinational banks and pension funds of the Government.

The budget has been termed as “futuristic and technology-driven” even as the minister did not announce any increase in the fares or any new trains and routes. The budget speech was more or less about modernising and improving the services of the Railways. A great part of the budget, however, centred around customer satisfaction, along with introducing innovative ways to earn revenue for one of world’s largest railway network. The minister also assured that recommendations made by a committee, headed by former Director of Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), Anil Kakodkar, will be taken into consideration while modernising and expanding Railways. In the coming days, one will also see an expansion in the existing railway routes to decongest busy routes.  

The budget also calls for an increase in daily passenger-carrying capacity from 21 million to 30 million and an increase in track length by 20 per cent (from 1,14,000 kilometre to 1,38,000 kilometre). To operationalise the same, the minister has called for 52 per cent increase in the total plan budget from Rs 65,798 crore to Rs 1,00,011 crore. The operating ratio, which was around 93 in 2014 has been brought down to 85 (Operating ratio indicates the financial health, which is basically the total expenditure against total earnings by Indian Railways). According to G Raghuram, a professor of transport economics at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Ahmedabad, operating ratio of 80 is ideal for Indian Railways. The spike in the operating ratio, as attributed by many railway officials, has been due to the sixth pay commission, leading to an increase in the expenditure in previous years.  

‘Railways most environment-friendly mode’ 

Comparing roads and air traffic to railways, Prabhu said that railways are more environment-friendly as they carry more goods per kilometre by using the same amount of fuel. The minister also plans to expand the bio-tiolets, vacuum flush to improve the hygiene of the Railways and to ensure that it is defecation free. He further told the Parliament that a “Swatch Bharat Abhiyan” (Clean Indian campaign) within Railways is already being implemented throughout the country. On the other hand, the minister has assured that roof top solar energy generation is planned along with four waste-to-energy plants in four different corners of the country, to cater to large amounts of waste being generated from the stations.  

Fare war  

The opposition has, however, criticised the budget for being “repetitive” and lacking any practicality. Former railway minister Pawan Kumar Bansal dismissed the budget for being repetitive and called for a decrease in the passengers. “In the previous budget, we had introduced a fuel adjustment component, which means that if the cost of fuel like diesel and electricity rises, then there would be a proportionate increase in the ticket fare and similarly the price would come down when the price of fuel decreases,” he said. The minister also informed that nine months ago, the National Democratic Alliance government had increased the fare by 14 per cent because the diesel cost was going up. Since then, the diesel price has almost halved, but there is no lowering of fares. “So, when they said that we will not raise the fare, they were misleading people, the fare should have been lowered instead. Accordingly the fuel adjustment component of the fare should have been lowered, but they are taking credit for not raising it,” said Bansal while addressing the media outside the Parliament.  

Supriya Sule, a Member of Parliament and from Nationalist Congress Party compared the budget to an abstract art painting. “It is full of ideas but where is the money to implement this budget?” asked Sule after stepping out of Thursday’s Parliament session. Last year, the Railways had registered a loss of Rs 30,000 crores. 

Shiv Sena MPs expressed disappointment for not addressing any local concerns. “There is nothing for my constituency which faces a shortage of trains,” says MP, Chandrakant Khaire from Aurangabad to a local TV channel.

 

More highlights of the budget
  • Among the Northeast states, Meghalaya brought on the Railway map of India and with direct connectivity to Delhi
  • Decongesting networks with basket of traffic generating projects a priority; priority to last mile connectivity projects; fast track sanctioned works on 7,000 km of double/third/fourth lines and commission 1200 km in 2015-16 at an investment of Rs 8686 crore
  • Transport Logistics Corporation of India (TRANSLOC), to be set up for developing common user facilities
  • For the benefit of farmers, a state of the art Perishable Cargo Centre under completion at the Azadpur Mandi with a scientific banana-ripening Centre; air cargo sector to be developed to facilitate and integrate the movement of air cargo between Inland Container Depots and the gateway airports
  • Speed of nine railway corridors to be increased from existing 110 and 130 kmph to 160 and 200 kmph respectively so that inter-metro journeys like Delhi-Kolkotta and Delhi-Mumbai can be completed overnight
  • Railway Design Standards Organization (RDSO) to develop a suitable device with reliable power supply system based on theft-proof panels/batteries in consultation with Indian Space Research Organization, using geo-spatial technology for providing audio-visual warning to road users at unmanned level crossings; radio-based signal design project been taken up with IIT Kanpur for warnings at unmanned level crossing
  • 970 Railway Overbridge/Railway Underbridge and other safety-related works to eliminate 3,438 level crossings at a total Railway expense of Rs 6,581 crore have been sanctioned, which is 2600 per cent higher than the previous year covering most
  • Strengthening of RDSO into an organisation of excellence for applied research; four Railway Research Centres to be set up in select universities for fundamental research; ‘Malaviya Chair’ for Railway Technology at IIT (BHU), Varanasi to be set up
  • Environment Directorate to be constituted in Railway Board to give increased focus and thrust on environment management
  • Detailed energy audit for energy saving
  • Procure power through the bidding process at economical tariff from generating companies, power exchanges, and bilateral arrangements; initiative likely to save at least Rs 3,000 crore in next few years,
  • Solar power as part of the solar mission of Railways. 1000 MW solar plants will be set up by the developers on Railway/private land and Railway buildings with subsidy/viability gap funding support of Ministry of Non-Renewable Energy in next five years
  • Water conservation mission, including water audit and expansion of water harvesting systems
  • Accreditation for environment management to be extended
  • 100 Diesel Electric Multiple Unit (DEMUs) to be enabled for dual fuel—CNG and diesel
  • Locomotives running on LN G are alsocurrently under development
  • Noise levels of locos to be at par with international norms; concerns related to wildlife to be addressed
  • Investing in Indian Railways necessary for our ecological sustenance mainly due to efficiencies of fuel consumption

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