As Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi prepares to present the Railway Budget on March 14, most of the big-ticket announcements made by his predecessor and party boss Mamata Banerjee last year have seen little or no progress.
“Though the ministry is currently deflecting focus towards the central government for the bigger grant for gross budgetary support, the railways’ performance in infrastructure creation, public-private partnership and decisions on fare has not been good,” says an official. Some say it is time to decongest the existing line infrastructure and cater to the supply shortage of rolling stock to meet the demand for bulk commodities such as coal, cement and foodgrains.
Banerjee’s biggest plan size outlay, of Rs 57,630 crore for 2011-12, has been revised to Rs 48,551 crore this year. Further downward revision is expected, said a senior railway official.
Though a rail factory was opened at Rae Bareli, the project is still in its formative stages. There was much talk about creating three thermal power plants at Adra in West Bengal, Tharkuli in Maharashtra and Nabhinagar in Bihar. Work at the Nabhinagar plant is in an advanced stage, while not much progress has been made in the others.
The project for setting an electric locomotive manufacturing units at Madhepura in Bihar and a diesel locomotive unit at Marhowra in the same state, was approved by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs in February 2007. The contracts for these have not been awarded yet.
The Union Cabinet in February approved setting up of a rail coach manufacturing unit at Palakkad in Kerala. It would have manufactured 400 coaches each year at a cost of Rs 550 crore (excluding the cost of land), as a joint venture in which the railways would contribute 26 per cent of the equity.
Non-lapsable fund creation
A non-lapsable fund for railway projects in the northeast has been set up. An Accelerated Rail Development Fund of Rs 5 lakh crore, promised in ‘Vision 2020’ document presented by Banerjee in 2009, is yet to be formed.
Though Rs 6,500 crore was earmarked initially for expansion, it was scaled down to Rs 1,500 crore but just 28 per cent or Rs 424 crore was utilised till November.
Railway Budget 2011-12 announced the introduction of 132 trains, extension of 33 and increase in frequency of 22 existing ones. Of these, till February, 115 new trains were introduced, 24 got extensions and the frequency of 19 has been increased.
A commitment of adding 1,075 km has not been kept. Only 15 per cent of the total budget allocation of Rs 1,100 crore had been spent till November. At the current rate of funding, taking inflation into account, the 360 projects, including 129 new lines, 45 gauge conversions and 166 doubling of ongoing projects, are likely to take 15 years to reach financial closure.
Dedicated freight corridors
On the eastern corridor, phase-wise commissioning is expected on the 125-km stretch of Mughalsarai-Sonnagar. Of this, 66 km would be constructed by the Railways. Work on 54 bridges on the western corridor is in progress. Tendering process for execution of civil work on the 625-km Rewari-Palanpur portion is also in progress. About 65 per cent of the land has been acquired on the two corridors.
PPP mode initiatives
Banerjee’s business-oriented moves such as the Railways’ infrastructure for industry initiative, private freight terminals and special freight train operators got positive response. The resource mobilisation through PPP mode in the 11th Plan (2007-12) is likely to be four per cent of the outlay.
Banerjee had announced 584 “adarsh” or world-class stations. Work has not started on any of these, though a beginning has been made with Ircon International and the Rail Land Development Authority signing a memorandum of understanding to set up a Railway Stations Development Corporation Ltd, which would undertake redevelopment and maintenance of the stations. Bidding for these stations under the PPP mode can be initiated after a master plan and feasibility report is prepared and in-principle approval of local bodies is obtained, said a railway official.
Of the 160 multi-functional complexes promised in the past two budgets, not a single one is ready.
A new portal, www.indianrail.gov.in, was created as an alternative to irctc.co.in. But the site had to be closed after it failed to sustain the onslaught of traffic, and the payment gateway was not foolproof.
A real-time train information system, providing this at a click of button or through SMS overcomes the limitations of the existing dissemination through the 139 number, which is mainly dependent on manual collection and feeding. The trains covered for this first phase are six paris of Rajdhani or Shatabdi.
Despite having 1.4 million employees, the railways have a shortage of 175,000 staffers at the group C and D levels. These are all the vacancies of supervisors and staff in the safety category. The recruitment is scheduled to end by October.
Even where data show works have been completed, there are question marks on the quality. The railways website does not tell the progress on various Budget promises.
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