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Lalu may tap market to bridge resource gap

BS Economy Bureau in New Delhi | July 06, 2004 09:36 IST

Railway Minister Lalu Prasad on Monday said his ministry might resort to higher market borrowings to bridge resource constraints.

A day before the presentation of the Railway Budget, Lalu told reporters that the ministry could also approach the World Bank for cheap loans.

Lalu's comments are significant as he is expected to unveil a large number of investment schemes in the Budget on Tuesday. The Plan outlay of Rs 13,425 crore (Rs 134.25 billion), earmarked in this year's Interim Budget, has mostly been committed for safety-related expenditure, over which the ministry has little discretion.

The railway ministry has repeatedly approached the finance ministry for additional Plan support to fund its investment plans. For this, Lalu has asked for Rs 2,000 crore (Rs 20 billion) from the finance ministry.

The Railways usually tap the market through its special purpose vehicle, the Indian Railway Finance Corporation.

In 2003-04, it raised Rs 3,000 crore (Rs 30 billion), but for 2004-05, the ministry has earmarked Rs 2,970 crore (Rs 29.7 billion). The ministry has said it is more costly to raise market loans compared to support from the exchequer.

The Budget is not expected to raise second-class suburban and passenger fares and freight charges.

As most of the high-density railway lines are over-saturated, it is also possible that the minister may introduce many new trains to fulfill regional aspirations.

The sources have indicated some new long-distance trains and unreserved trains might be introduced to enable labourers from labour-intensive areas to travel to growth centres like Punjab, Delhi, Mumbai, Coimbatore and Ahmedabad.

In the last fiscal, while the freight lifted by the Railways surpassed the target, the revenue earned through them rose only marginally because of low-rated commodities.

The railway minister is also most likely to look at the performance of the public sector units attached to the Railways and might announce the dismantling of those units whose performance is not up to the mark.

The Railways have nine PSUs attached with them. The safety aspect of railways is likely to get top priority in view of the recent train mishaps, robberies and other such incidents. The corporate safety plan, introduced by the previous government, may get a leg-up.

The minister is also likely to unfold a programme for viable commercial utilisation of unutilised railway land to mobilise additional resources.

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