New Delhi: Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Wednesday proposed to allocate Rs 131000 crore as capital and development expenditure for the Indian railways during fiscal 2017-18.
The Union budget emphasised on providing railway passengers with better amenities and more safety, as Jaitley announced a special 'Rail Safety Fund' of Rs one lakh crore, which was earlier announced in 2002 by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.
This is the first time that expenditure, fiscal support and various sector-specific schemes for the railways was announced in the Union Budget.
The decision to merge the standalone Railway Budget with the general Budget was taken by the Union Cabinet last year.
"For 2017-18, the total capital and development expenditure of railways has been pegged at Rs 131,000 crore. This includes Rs 55,000 crore provided by the government," Jaitley said, presenting the Union Budget 2017-18.
"Among other things, the railways will focus on four major areas -- passenger safety, capital and development works, cleanliness and finance and accounting reforms."
He said the "Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh (Railway Safety Fund) will be created with a corpus of Rs one lakh crore over a period of five years".
"Besides seed capital from the government, the railways will arrange the balance resources from their own revenues and other sources."
The minister elaborated that railways will eliminate all the unmanned level crossings by 2020 -- one of the major reasons for train accidents in India.
"Expert international assistance will be harnessed to improve safety preparedness and maintenance practices," Jaitley said.
The minister informed the Parliament that new railway lines of 3500 km will be commissioned in 2017-18, as against 2800 km in 2016-17.
"Steps will be taken to launch dedicated trains for tourism and pilgrimage," he said.
Emphasing on the station redevelopment, Jaitely said that at least 25 stations were expected to be awarded during 2017-18 for station redevelopment.
"(Some) 500 stations will be made differently abled friendly by providing lifts and escalators."
The Finance Minister proposed to feed about 7,000 stations with solar power in the medium term to save energy.
"A beginning has already been made in 300 stations. Works will be taken up for 2,000 railway stations as part of 1,000 MW solar mission."
He is proposed to introduce 'Coach Mitra' facility -- a single window complaint system to maintain railway cleanliness.
"By 2019, all coaches of Indian railways will be fitted with bio toilets," he said.
"Pilot plants for environment friendly disposal of solid waste and conversion of biodegradable waste to energy are being set up at New Delhi and Jaipur railway stations."
Besides, five more such solid waste management plants are now being taken up.
In addition, the service charge on railway tickets booked through IRCTC (Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation) will be withdrawn.
"Railways will offer competitive ticket booking facility to the public at large. Service charge on e-tickets booked through IRCTC has been withdrawn," he said.
Currently, Rs 40 on every ticket booked in air-conditioned classes and a service charge of Rs 20 on every ticket booked in sleeper class is levied by the IRCTC when tickets are booked through its website.
The Finance Minister said that cashless reservations have gone up from 58 per cent to 68 per cent in recent times.
Moreover, a new Metro Rail policy will be announced, which is expected to open up new jobs for the youths.
The minister informed the Parliament that the shares of public sector enterprises in the railway sector like IRCTC, Indian Railway Finance Corporation Limited and Ircon International Limited will be listed on the stock exchanges.
Summing up the big steps for Railways in budget 2017:
Total capital and developmental expenditure of Rs1.31 lakh crore for Railways in 2017-18 including Rs 55000 crore to be provided by government.
* All train coaches to be fitted with bio-toilets by 2019
* At least 25 stations will be redeveloped in the upcoming year
* 500 railway stations to be made disabled-friendly
* A rail safety fund - Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh - with corpus of Rs 100000 crore to be created over 5 years
* Dedicated trains for pilgrimage and tourism planned.
* Proposes to feed 7000 solar railway station in medium term.
* To commission 3500 km of railway tracks in 2018
Also, buy IRCTC shares soon: State-run rail firms like the IRCTC, IRFC, the dedicated financing arm of the Ministry of Railways, ... are set to be listed.