Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu, presenting the Narendra Modi government’s first full-year Railway Budget on Thursday, left passenger fares untouched and steered clear of announcing any new trains. Instead, he launched a slew of measures aimed at making train travel easier, more comfortable and safer.
The passenger-friendly proposals include SMS alerts for train timings, provision for Wi-Fi facility in 400 stations, user-friendly ladders for upper berths, 17,000 bio-toilets, and installation of cameras for the safety of women travellers. Also, it has been proposed that tickets can now be booked four months in advance (from two months earlier), and those travelling unreserved can buy a ticket within five minutes.
The fund allotment for passenger amenities has been increased by 67 per cent, he said, requesting corporates, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), charitable institutions and religious bodies to come forward and invest generously for passenger amenities from their CSR (corporate social responsibility) funds.
“Over the next five years, IR [Indian Railways] has to go through a transformation,” said Mr. Prabhu, outlining better customer experience, safety, capacity expansion and financial sustainability as the goals.
Toward achieving this, the Minister emphasised on partnerships, and indicated that some Rs. 8.5 lakh crore would need to be invested in the next five years. Also important for such a transformation would be revamped systems and processes, he added.
Mr. Prabhu pointed to an “improvement” in the financial performance of 2014-15. His target, therefore, for 2015-16 is an operating ratio — a key metric that shows the percentage of money spent on the money earned — of 88.5 per cent. That figure was 91.8 per cent in 2014-15 and 93.6 per cent in 2013-14. This, he said, would be the best operating ratio in the last nine years.
Fresh revenues were raised through an increase in freight rates on coal, iron ore and steel, a move that will be operational from April 1, and bring about Rs. 4,000 crore.
The budget also made it clear that Railways would be an integral part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet schemes such as Swachh Bharat, Make in India, and Digital India. This, according to Vishwas Udgirkar, Senior Director, Deloitte in India, shows that “the Railway Budget is not a document in isolation.”
Later, at a press conference, Mr. Prabhu elaborated on this question. He said, “Nowhere in the world is there a question of where the money is going to come from. The same question was put to me when I was a power minister — where is the money going to come from? We got $150 billion after the Electricity Act 2003 was passed. So, for creating infrastructure, we cannot just depend on only one source: gross budgetary support.”