Railway Minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda began presenting the rail budget in Lok Sabha Tuesday, promising to serve the social obligations of the ministry, but with an eye on financial viability and the need to maintain and upgrade the network.
“Everybody feels there are solutions to meet the challenges that the Indian Railways faces,” the minister said, adding while Indian Railways will continue to meet its social obligations, it would not be possible without financial feasibility.
Earlier in the day he hoped the proposals he outlines will evoke a positive response and meet the aspirations of all stakeholders. “Going to present my maiden budget as a rail minister of India today. Hope we are able to meet public expectations,” Gowda tweeted.
Ranked among the world’s top five, the Indian railroad network ferries 23 million people and 2.65 million tonnes of goods daily from 7,083 stations on 12,000 passenger and 7,000 freight trains over more than 64,000 route km.
With a network stretching from Baramulla in Jammu and Kashmir in the foothills of the Himalayas to the southern tip of Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu, Indian Railways is also among the largest employers with an estimated 1.4 million people on its rolls.
Last month Gowda had listed safety and security of women and the elderly as also passenger amenities like drinking water, waiting areas and rest rooms, as his priority areas and said that effort will be made to make railways efficient and passenger oriented.
Gowda, a former chief minister of Karnataka who represents the Bangalore North constituency in Lok Sabha, further said even though Indian Railways carried the largest number of passengers and freight, it stood much behind in efficiency, punctuality, cleanliness and services.
“The Chinese Railways, as we know, is four times more efficient than ours both in terms of number of passengers carried per employee and freight carried per employee,” he said, adding conventional thinking and the present style of functioning will not achieve anything.
The maiden railway budget for the Prime Minister Narandra Modi government is also set to propose steps to boost the department’s revenues, as it is saddled with a huge cash crunch of Rs.26,000 crore amid a decline in the growth in passenger earnings.
The new government has already increased railway passenger fares by 14.2 percent and the freight carriage charges by 6.5 percent. However, it will need more funds from international lenders to finance long gestation projects.
In the interim budget, Mallikarjun Kharge, the then railway minister, had set a revenue target of Rs.1.65 lakh crore that included Rs.1.06 lakh crore from goods and Rs.45,255 crore from passenger fares, and the balance from coaching and other sources.