The first merger of rail Budget with Union Budget presented by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in the Parliament on Wednesday focussed on improving rail safety, pushing digital transactions, listing rail public sector units on stock markets and setting fares competing with other modes of transportation.
A rail safety fund, named ‘Rail Sanraksha Kosh’, with a corpus of Rs. 1 lakh crore is proposed to be set up over a period of five years, Mr. Jaitley announced. He added that all unmanned railway crossings on broad gauge lines will be eliminated by 2020.
The Finance Minister announced the waiver of service charges on e-tickets booked through Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC). Earlier, IRCTC used to levy a service charge of Rs 20 on sleeper class and Rs 40 on AC class e-tickets. The service charge waiver may hit Indian Railways’ revenues by Rs 2 crore a day, according to senior Railway Ministry officials. However, IRCTC will be able to raise money from the market as a plan to list the railway PSU on stock markets was announced by Mr. Jaitley. Along with IRCTC, Indian Railway Finance Corporation and Ircon will also be listed on stock markets.
Railway tariff will be fixed based on social obligation cost and competitiveness with other transport mode, Mr. Jaitley said. “Tariffs of Railways would be fixed, taking into consideration costs, quality of service and competition from other forms of transport,” the Finance Minister said.
A record plan outlay of Rs 1.31 lakh crore for Indian Railways in 2017-18 was announced against Rs 1.21 lakh crore planned for 2016-17. The Finance Ministry will provide a gross budgetary support of Rs 55,000 crore to the Railways in 2017-18. For the first time after the merger of Budgets, Railways will not be required to pay annual dividend of around Rs 9,000 crore to the Finance Ministry beginning 2017-18.
Railway lines of 3,500 kms will be commissioned and at least 25 stations are expected to be awarded for station redevelopment in 2017-18.
A single window interface named ‘Coach Mitra’ will be set up to register all coach-related complaints and requirements to be launched. For cleanliness, all rail coaches will have bio-toilets by 2019 and plants for environment-friendly disposal of solid wastes will be set up at Jaipur and New Delhi railway stations.
Five hundred railway stations will be made differently-abled friendly by providing lifts and escalators. The Centre will frame a new Metro Rail Policy with focus on “innovative models of implementation and financing, as well as standardisation and indigenisation of hardware and software.”