Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu was supportive of the proposal of the finance ministry and NITI Aayog to discard the 92-year-old practice of presenting a separate Railway Budget. The move itself may save a gross amount of Rs 10,000 crore for the railways in dividend payment. As the Narendra Modi government moves away from this colonial practice, Shine Jacob takes a look at the achievements against targets set by the last Railway Budget presented in February this year.
The railways is expecting a revenue of Rs 1,84,820 crore during the current financial year (FY17), which officials claim will be achieved this year. However, this appears to be unrealistic considering there was a 7.74 per cent fall in freight earnings in July, compared with the year-ago period. In the first three months, earnings from freight had dropped by 11 per cent. Coal traffic, too, has dropped rapidly from 253 rakes during the first three months of FY17 to about 180 rakes. As far as passenger services are concerned, except third AC, all other passenger services are loss-making now, because of no fare hike. However, through rationalisation of freight rate for coal and dynamic pricing in premium trains, it is hoping to get higher revenue.
One of the major announcements of Prabhu's Budget in 2016 was about the introduction of trains like Antyodaya Express, Humsafar, Tejas and UDAY. All these four trains are set to hit the tracks in the next two months. While three-tier AC train Humsafar is targeted at low-budget commuters, who want to graduate to air-conditioned travel by paying a bit more, Tejas will have service attendants such as air hostess, besides bringing the speed advantage of 130 km per hour. On the other hand, Antyodaya Express, a long-distance, fully unreserved, super-fast train service will be targeting common man and UDAY (Utkrisht Double-Decker Air-conditioned Yatri) will be overnight trains plying on the busiest routes to increase capacity by 40 per cent.
Food and catering services
After starting e-catering services, the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Cooperation is in the process of installing food vending machines. The scheme is being extended to all 408 'A-1'and 'A' class stations. Ministry is set to come up with a catering policy by the end of this month. Once it is in place, IRCTC may extend its catering services 40-50 trains, to more trains.
Prabhu had proposed inviting FM radio stations to provide train-borne entertainment by installing public announcement (PA) systems in trains. The service will be started in about 1,000 Mail and Express trains, including Rajdhani, Shatabdi and Duronto. Through RailRadio, passengers will be updated about rail-related informations on an hourly basis. The service will be soon launched for the passengers.
Make in India
The minister had announced setting up of two new loco factories under the Make in India initiative, with an order book of Rs 40,000 crore. The ministry has managed to place contracts for the diesel and electric locomotive factories.
Passenger insurance scheme was one of the major announcements in Prabhu's last Budget to minimise the financial loss to passengers from any untoward incident. The railways launched an insurance scheme for passengers booking tickets online on an experimental basis from September 2 onwards. At a premium of 92 paise per passenger, the scheme gives an insurance coverage up to Rs 10 lakh. The three companies providing insurance are Shriram General Insurance, ICICI Lombard and Royal Sundaram General Insurance. The Railways is now gearing up to extend it to unreserved passengers as well, linking it with their Aadhaar.
Rail Development Authority
In the Railway Budget 2016, Suresh Prabhu had said that a draft Bill was ready for setting up an independent Rail Development Authority to govern the rail tariff and other aspects. However, even after seven months, there is not too much headway in this regard. Prabhu cites this as his next top priority after the merger of budgets.
The railways has launched 'clean my coach' service, where for any cleaning in a coach, a passenger can send an SMS to 58888. It is also in the process of installing additional 30,000 bio-toilets in the next financial year.
Prabhu had announced commissioning Wi-Fi services at 100 stations this year and 400 stations in the next two years. Railway subsidiary RailTel has tied up with Google to roll out Railwirebranded Wi-Fi hotspots to connect at least 100 railway stations with data network by the year end. RailTel is also in talks with social media giant Facebook for providing Wi-Fi services in stations.