Suresh Prabhu was perhaps the most important individual in the country today as he presented the rail budget for the 2015-16 fiscal. There were some areas that attracted rather keen interest such as rates of freight and passenger fare. One also needed to keep in mind the critical financial condition of the railways (it is suffering from paucity of funds). Prabhu also needed to make sure that there were some proposals in his budget that are connected to the Make in India programme started by Narendra Modi. Increasing the levels of safety and security was fairly important as well. It was also expected that owing to falling prices of diesel, Indian railways will receive an investment boost amounting to at least nine billion dollars.
Railway Budget 2015-16: Major Features in a Nutshell
The Railways Minister has not increased the passenger fares! However, contrary to public expectations, he has not started any new train as well. A new department is supposed to be created for keeping the railways clean. This is in keeping with the cleanliness programmes initiated by Narendra Modi. Suresh Prabhu has also proclaimed that a round-the-clock railway helpline will be started and it will be made accessible to everyone on a real time basis. He has stated that from now there would be efforts to bring down the time taken to provide tickets to five minutes.
One of the major problems suffered by passengers over the years has been that they have never received the chance to book advance tickets two months before their scheduled date of travel. However, in a relief to such woes the Railways Minister has announced that the required time period will be taken up to four months. The step to reduce the time for advance bookings had been taken from 1 May 2013 so that middlemen could not buy tickets in bulk.
The Indian railway system is presently taking more strain than it can afford and the government will be increasing its expenses in this regard to INR 8.5 trillion. This amount will be pumped in over the coming five years.
The government has assured one and all that the railway tracks will be modernised and trains will be improved so that they are able to travel in lesser time. In the next two years the ministry is aiming to take this time to 20%. The government will also try and increase the speed of freight trains irrespective of the fact that they may be filled or empty.
In the 2014-15 fiscal the amount of railway revenue that could be used for purposes of Investments was 8.2%. However, from 1 April it will go up to 11.5%. A lot of importance is also being given in developing railway connectivity to Jammu and Kashmir and the northeastern states. The Railways Minister has also acknowledged the impact of corruption on common people and assured that steps are being worked on to stop the menace. The ministry is also setting up a mechanism for making laws, deciding on tariffs, and deciding tariff rates.
Railway Budgets 2015-16 Highlights
Following are some of the salient features of the 2015-16 railway budget presented by Suresh Prabhu:
- Track capacity of railways to be increased.
- Bio-toilets to be installed replacing 17,000 toilets.
- Railways will be entering partnerships with private sector entities, institutions that provide multilateral funds and other public sector undertakings.
- Helpline no. 138 for 24X7 railway helpline that will be available all over the country. The toll free number for security related complaints is 182.
- Railways are developing a mobile app where people can lodge their complaints.
- Passengers can now buy reserved tickets in five minutes.
- SMS alert service to be provided for better information on departure and arrival.
- E-catering to be started in 108 trains. This will provide more choice to passengers regarding their meals during the journey.
- Certain trains to be equipped with 24-26 coaches. More ladders and coaches in general class will be replaced.
- IRCTC to provide more upgraded facilities for the specially-abled, patients, and senior citizen passengers.
- Certain ladies and mainline compartments to be fitted with surveillance cameras.
- A new website for customers to be started. This will also promote the Digital India initiative.
- Satellite railway terminals will be instituted at the big cities. Ten stations have already been chosen for this purpose.
- A monitoring cell has been set up for redeveloping stations using simpler methods.
- The suburban section in Mumbai will be given additional AC EMU services. Certain trains to be fitted with more general coaches.
- Wi-Fi facilities will be available at 400 railway stations. A proposal is also being made to overhaul the programme for redeveloping stations.
- 77 new projects will be started by railways and this will include doubling, quadrupling, tripling and electrification procedures. In fact there will be an increase of 133% in electrification of railways.
- A perishable cargo centre, to be equipped with the latest and best facilities, is being built to benefit peasants.
- A new PSU named TRANSLOC to be set up for providing logistics solutions.
- Nine corridors for high speed trains will be built. In these corridors trains will be able to travel at speeds ranging from 160-200 km per hour as opposed to 110-130 km.
- By the middle of 2015 the government will be able to finish a feasibility report on the high speed train that will ply between Mumbai and Ahmedabad.
- The government will also review the programmes in place for making wagons so that the private sector can be encouraged to participate in the same.
- Train protection warning systems will be installed so that fire in coaches can be prevented. A system for avoiding collision with other trains will be instituted as well.
- The freight business will be decentralised, delegated and de-regularized so that it can become less complex.
- Railways will also start joint ventures with other PSUs so that various railway requirements can be met more effectively.
- A technology website will be started so that people can provide innovative solutions.
- There will also be a shift to predictive from preventive maintenance.
- Assets of railway will be monetized rather than sold.
- There will be an increase of 52% in railways’ plan size.
- Encroachment of rail land will now be countered with digital maps of railway land.
- Solar plants with capacity of 1000 MV will be set up in railway offices and land.
- The model of Konkan Railway will be followed for encouraging self employment and development.
- INR 6750 crore will be spent for doing away with 3438 level crossings and 970 over-bridges and under-bridges.