No new trains would be announced in the coming railway budget of 2016-17 as the transporter has decided to do away with the practice adopted by its political masters in the past to appease various constituencies.
Railway minister Suresh Prabhu said, “the budget should be about financial outlays so why new trains and stoppages should be part of it?” However, the minister emphasized that new trains will be announced as and when there is a need, considering the demand and economic viability.
The decision is seen as an attempt to delink the budget from clutches of political populism by keeping out announcements related to new trains and projects and maintaining it as an annual financial statement of railways.
The minister said he has gone through past budgets which were full of these announcements. “The announcements in past budgets were political gimmicks,” Prabhu said. The minister taunted his predecessor’s announcements of large number of trains and stoppages, saying Mallikarjun Kharge’s budget as a ‘stoppage budget’. “If we would have implemented these stoppages, railways itself would have stopped,” he said in a lighter vein.
Highlighting achievements of his one year tenure, the minister said that it was an unique challenge as I have to run the trains, manage funds and ensure capital expenditure, push through systemic reforms and at the same time manage HR of 13 lakh employees. Prabhu said the key recommendations made by Bibek Debroy committee report such as changing accounting system, delegation of powers to divisions and zones and setting up of independent regulator submitted in July was part of his budget speech in February and most of them are at different stages of implementation.
Prabhu also announced that the broader contours of the proposed railway regulatory authority will be put online in a week to seek views of stakeholders. The regulator will be entrusted the task of determining tariff, setting performance standards to ensure efficiency and making regulations to ensure level-playing field to private players.
The minister said 103 budget announcements have been totally implemented with steps taken to ensure punctuality of trains, cleanliness and providing quality food. Outlining his strategy for pushing the national transporter out of financial mess, the minister said the focus should be on generating 30-40% of the revenue from non-railway operations.
On bullet train project, he said the JICA report on Mumbai-Ahmedabad high speed rail corridor project is being evaluated by the government to decide the future course of action on India’s first bullet train. A panel of senior officers from railways, finance ministry, MEA and NITI Ayog are evaluating the JICA report, Prabhu said.