The Opposition today attacked the government for doing away with a 92-year old tradition of presenting a separate Railway Budget saying the previous practice was more result-oriented and sought a clear roadmap for making the network financially viable.
Initiating the debate on the Demand for Grants for Railways 2017-18, Congress member K H Muniyappa said the convention of presenting a separate Budget has been changed and adding that a separate Rail Budget would have led to more development of the sector.
Muniyappa, a former Minister of State for Railways, however, praised some of the efforts of the government with regard to improving freight capacity by adding 3-4 separate freight corridors, increasing the number of wagons of goods trains and the bullet train project.
Along with the bullet train, the government should also think of improving the existing 65,000 km railway infrastructure as it would help improve amenities, speed and saving time for three crore passengers, Muniyappa said.
While Rs 1 lakh crore was required for one bullet train, Rs 3 lakh crore would be required for renovation and maintenance of existing 65,000 km infrastructure, he said.
Participating in the debate, TMC MP and former Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi said the railways should be made a catalyst for GDP growth and there was a need to make it financially sound.
He said currently, the railways was spending Rs 110 to earn Rs 100 and demanded a roadmap for enhancing its overall operations.
Trivedi accused the government of misleading the House by projecting a growth trajectory in freight, passenger volume and revenue for 2017-18 while comparing them with the revised estimates of current fiscal.
He said the comparison should have been made with the budget estimate of 2016-17.
Quoting official figures, he said there has been a steady decline in volumes of passenger and freight, which have severely affected the revenue of railways.
Trivedi also slammed the "flexi fare" scheme, saying it was making a severe impact on finances of railways. He also said that "the identity of India is Himalayas, Maa Ganga and the railways which connects the entire country."
Defending the merger of the rail budget with the general budget and asserting that a separate rail budget had become a tool for fulfilling political agenda, BJP's Yogi Adityanath said the merger was in the interest of the railways and its passengers.
Out of 676 projects announced by the Railways through
various budgets, only 369 were completed, Adityanath said.
He also emphasised the need for finding solution of functional discrepancies between Railway Protection Force (RPF) and Government Railway Police (GRP) operations.
Citing an example, Adityanath said while the protection of railway property was under RPF's jurisdiction, but if a crime takes place at the railway property then GRP takes charge. This anomaly has to be looked at in a comprehensive manner and integrated solution has to be arrived at, he said.
Highlighting various initiatives taken by the government for the Railway in the last two and half years, the BJP member claimed the amenities, safety and security for passengers have improved.
Trivedi said the Railways should have capitalised on growth of e-commerce sector to increase its revenue from freight.
Expressing concern over declining revenue of the railways, the TMC member said it has reached a stage where internal revenue was funding only 11 per cent of the projects.
He said that only 15 per cent of the total funds required for various railway projects have been released, causing severe delay in their implementation.
Trivedi also recited a few couplets to describe the railways, drawing applause from almost all the members present in the house.
M B Rajesh (CPIM) said merging of the Rail budget with
the General budget would dismantle the autonomy of the public sector undertaking.
"The institution of railways is on the verge of dismantling," he said, adding the government decided to merge the budget without parliamentary discussion.
He also said the pace of development in the railway sector is "tardy" due to lack of investments.
P Venugopal (AIADMK) asked the government to allocate more funds for the development of southern railways.
M Rajamohan Reddy (YSR Congress) demanded new trains for Andhra Pradesh.
Criticising the merger of the Rail budget with the General budget, R S Satav (Congress) said the government has done nothing for the development of the sector in the last three years.
"The performance of the sector has not been improved," he said, adding "government ki aamdani atthanni aur kharcha rupaiya ho raha hai" (government spends more than it earns).
The government is not focussing on controlling rail accidents and improving safety of passengers, Satav said.
He said the "extension" of Rail budget to the Finance Ministry is not a good thing as the ministry always curtails funds for projects.
The government has allocated one lakh crore for bullet train but attention is not being paid to the backward areas, he added.
Jagdambika Pal (BJP) said announcements made by the government for the sector relate to its progress and would be completed on time.
Merger of the Rail budget is "end of the dividend and colonial era," he said, adding the dividend will now be used for the development of Indian Railways.
Trinamool Congress member Arpita Ghosh apprehended a ploy by the government to privatise the Railways while contending that there is no rationale behind the merger of Rail Budget with the General budget.
"There seems to be no reason for merger of (Rail) budget except for the fact that there is a plan for privatisation of the Railways," she said.
Pralhad Joshi (BJP) said punctuality and grievances redressal has set a new benchmark under this government.
Prem Singh Chandumajara (SAD) demanded Guru Gobind Singh Rail Marg covering all the important Sikh religious in various states.
Terming railways as the lifeline of the country, Jai Prakash Narain Yadav (RJD) said the merger has been done to camouflage the railway losses.
"Today, the fares are going up and Railway is suffering losses," he said.
Balbhadra Majhi (BJD) demanded better coordination between railway zones -- the East Coast Railway, South East Railway and the South East Central Railways jurisdictions -- that cover Odisha.
He rued that several stations orginating from Odisha do not have pantry car services, causing inconvenience to the commuters.
Jaidev Galla (TDP) demanded a new zone for Andhra Pradesh as promised under the AP Reorganisation Act, apart from a railway university in Amravathi, the new capital of the state.
Boora Goud (TRS) sought to known the reasons behind growing number of accidents. He said the Indian railway should not emulate the American model, but prefer European, which emphasis on favouring public transport.