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Rediff.com  » Business » Rail Budget has everything for common man: Prabhu

Rail Budget has everything for common man: Prabhu

March 09, 2016 19:09 IST

The initiatives intended to benefit the common man include e-ticketing, catering on demand, bio-toilets, food for infants, better stations.

 
 

Brushing aside Opposition charge that the rail budget has nothing for poor, Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu said it had "everything for the common man", as he unveiled a three-pronged strategy including an austerity drive to revitalise railways.

Replying to the debate on rail budget in the Lok Sabha said, the Minister said "the budget has everything for common man...common man is the centre of the budget."

The initiatives intended to benefit the common man include e-ticketing, catering on demand, bio-toilets, food for infants, better stations etc, the Minister said.

Moreover, the weaker sections including members of SC and ST would be given preference while awarding contracts for setting up stalls at railway stations.

The Lower House later passed the appropriation bills and the demands for grants in connection with the rail budget for 2016-17, after over a debate that witnessed participation of over 100 members.

Observing that "railways have been going through challenging times...(and) a real crisis accumulated over the years", Prabhu said his three-pronged strategy was aimed at "significantly" improving the financial health of the railways and make it a "precious asset of the nation".

The strategy to revive the railways include augmentation of services, generation of more revenue and optimisation of cost.

Elaborating on the strategy, the Minister said he proposed to launch an "austerity drive" to reduce administrative expenses.

Appreciating the efforts of members to sit late on Tuesday night to discuss the rail budget, Prabhu said MPs actually "burnt the midnight oil" but he would not be able to fulfill all their "genuine demands" because of paucity of resources.

The effort, the Minister said, would be to raise both traditional and non-traditional resources and involve private sector through the Public Private Partnership (PPP) mode to develop stations and other services.

Responding to a suggestion by Trinamool Congress member Sugata Bose, Prabhu said the railways would consider having multiple stakeholders in the bids for developing stations so that good services could be provided to passengers.

The railways, he added, would soon invite bids for developing five stations under the PPP mode and also consider involving state-owned companies in the process.

Speaking about the bullet trains, Prabhu said in a lighter vein that probably UPA had some premonition about the future Prime Minister and Railway Minister, prompting them to contemplate country's first bullet train between Mumbai and Ahmadabad, so that the two leaders could meet often.

Responding to concerns of the members about the funds involved in introducing bullet trains, the Minister said it would be built with Japanese funding.

The Japanese government will provide soft loan with low interest rate for a period of 50 years with a moratorium of 15 years, he said, adding it would be virtually on the self-financing mode.

On the other hand, he said, the railways will significantly benefit from transfer of technology and other "spin-off benefits" across the organisation.

The railways would also be seeking assistance from Japan in improving safety standards and signalling and move towards 'zero accident'.

Raising questions over funding of bullet trains, Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge said the focus should be on increasing the speed of existing trains instead of spending huge sums on such trains.

Interjecting during the Minister's reply, Kharge also criticised him for raising rail fare "five times before the presentation of the budget".

Prabhu said he would strive to improve the operating ratio, a key financial indicator, notwithstanding the fact that tepid economic growth and additional outgo for implementing the 7th pay commission award have adversely impacted railway finances.

He also indicated that the operating ratio, which has marginally deteriorated, might show some improvement when the final figures of revenue and expenditure are prepared.

The focus in the years to come, the Minister said, would be more on generating internal resources than seeking funds from the general budget.

"Non-freight revenue is something we have to pay a lot of thrust. We are reviving the parcel business. Advertising (revenue) will be increased at least four times. We are working on it," he said, adding the railways was also for the first time contemplating to "monetising data".

Observing that about seven billion passengers travel by rail every year, Prabhu said "this is the largest number anywhere. So why not we use the data available to us, monetise it and start earning revenue. All of these things will ensure the long-term financial viability of the railways."

Looking at non-traditional sources of revenue, he said, was necessary as depending on few traditional commodities for revenue involves risk.

"We have been saying that railways have been depending traditionally on very few commodities. (It is) risky business to depend on only a few commodities. For whatever reason (if) there is a slowdown, then we will not be able to do business properly," the Minister said. 

The railways, Prabhu added, was working on number of new initiatives to increase revenue from freight and passenger fares. These initiatives include multi-point loading freight trains, massive containerisation, utilisation of excess terminal building capacity etc.

"On the passenger side, we are estimated to grow at one per cent... In new trains like Tejas and Humsafar, we will not be losing money. We will also add capacity for reserved and unreserved travel with more than three coaches," Prabhu added. 

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