Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Self-funded Rail budget earns profits

Shivaji Sarkar

Railways is beyond speed. It connects India. It takes to the farthest, remotest and inaccessible area and immensely contribute to the growth of hinterlands.
Its contributions are not for getting lost amid glitz of the infra push, the roads, solar or space achievements. It is much more than speed, coaches and corridors. The Indian Railways remain the driver of the economy as covid19 exemplified. The closure of the trains slowed down the economic growth. It tumbled to minus 24 percent.
While Prime Minister’s Gati Shakti is a good target for efficient corridor functioning more efficient. All the same it needs to stress on the trains that connect every station of the country, once served by the trains like the Janata Express. Rail travel still remains affordable but the cost on the most deprived is increasing. Logically correct, but the nation has to take care of the large number of the poor who have just come up the official poverty line, but who as Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, told in Rajya Sabaha, need more care and his free food dole for another five years is meant to tend them and handhold them to the next better phase of life.
Railways is self-funded and having profits too though emphasising less on commuters. Somewhere it gets into oblivion that locally connecting trains are not only needed in metro cities of Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai and Bengaluru but also in all other states whether Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana, or southern states of Andhra, Telangana, Odisha or the critical North East.
Various metro projects have been allocated Rs 23931 crore and Rs 1300 crore for electric buses. But it is observed that these do not cater to the poorer class, even in cities like Delhi. They shun metro for its high fare affecting their mobility. The Delhi-Meerut rapid transit metro runs parallel to Northern Railway suburban-cum-local tracks. It has a high cost and proposed fare as well. But it deprives the highest number of poorer travellers as they lack affordability.
The Chennai and Mumbai local trains are more efficiently run than the metros in these cities. Overall losses of metro in all sections are being overlooked.
As per official figures, 50 percent of total railway passengers are suburban commuters from the three major cities – Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai. If other hubs all over the country are included, they would form the major chunk of approximately 80 lakh passengers. They despite contributing substantially to the economy, remain the most neglected. In pursuit of speed, the most productive people are being ignored. Their contribution to rail profit is underestimated. Even the running trains generate jobs for thousands of vendors.
The projects like RRTS need a review. It has also been observed that Kolkata metro of Indian Railways remain the best and most profitable despite high cost of deep tunnelling under the Hooghly river. Unlike most other metros it remains profitable and high ridership as is also the case with the Kolkata suburban railway.
It is often said that railways not making enough money. That’s incorrect. It has earned Rs 2242 crore extra revenue denying concessions to them between March 2020 and March 2023. The financial year 2022-23 alone earned Rs 560 crore from the change in norms making it the most profitable year, according to Centre for Railway Information Systems (CRIS).
The railways have earned Rs 2800 crore in the last seven years from child travellers, who are made to full fare since April 21, 2016. Earlier, children between 5 and 12 years were offered separate berths at half the travel fare. Fares of suburban travel have also been revised.
The budget has earmarked a capex of Rs 2.55 lakh crore for the Indian railways, which is just marginally higher than the Rs 2.4 lakh crore announced in last year’s budget. Railways need a bigger push. It should not be for suddenly changing 40,000 coaches to Vande Bharat type structure. It is not needed. The officials have made the planners opt for an inappropriate step.
The actual total receipt of Indian Railways was Rs 240,176.96 crore in 2022-23, which was estimated to rise to Rs 265,000 crore in 2023-24 (BE), but was found to be Rs 258,600 crore in 2023-24 (RE). As against this, total expenditure has been on the rise, which were Rs 237,659.58 crore in 2022-23 (actual), Rs 262,790 crore in 2023-24 (BE), and Rs 256,600 crore in 2023-24 (RE). Now, the interim budget 2024-25 has estimated it to rise to Rs 279,700 crore.
The finance minister’s announced budgetary support of Rs 2.55 lakh crore is an illusion. It only rechristens the railways own accounts in finance ministry terms. In other words, it could be said that railways are not being given any extra finance. Even its capex is generated by the railways itself. It has one of the highest operating ratio up from 90 percent in 2013 to 98 percent in 2025. This means that railways to spend Rs 98 per every Rs 100 it earns. It reflects in the share market too on the high demand of railway-related company scrip.
In pursuit of speed, it should neither slow down regular trains, nor cancel local passenger trains or neglect the suburban sector. It is not wise to be left it to be catered by metro or RRTS trains at huge costs. Each metro station construction, security and avoidable paraphernalia costs much more than the railways would have done.
Lack of integrated rail-led passenger transport vision has added to tremendous cost of less utilised metros as in Lucknow, Kanpur, Jaipur, Bengaluru and other such cities. Metros should be replaced with elevated trams.
Any average 150-year-old rail stations serve far better. Rail stations need simple, beautiful and easy access not a designer one. Most demolitions of old efficient structures of stations must be stopped.
Along with that elevated trams with simple access to platforms should be planned for efficient, inexpensive, comfortable city commuting.
It calls for reorientation and a falsified approach that Indian Railways need very high speed. They have evolved with the best and with minimum efforts and expenditure they should be made better. The rural, semi-urban and urban travellers need the attention and the railways must orient it towards them.

More articles