New Delhi: Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal will present his first Rail Budget on Tuesday.
The proposed Railway Budget may see a possible hike in passenger fares, announcement of new trains, besides other measures aimed at mobilising resources to neutralise the burden of the recent diesel price hike.
Bansal is reported to have had several discussions with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Finance Minister P Chidambaram, the Planning Commission and Congress president Sonia Gandhi in connection with the draft Railway Budget for fiscal 2013-14.
According to a report in The Hindu newspaper, the Railways have set up a steering group to shore up resources in order to generate funds to meet internal requirements and to fund capital expenditure through other sources.
Bansal may also consider raising freight charges to reduce the increase in the fuel bill by over Rs. 3,000 crore due to the diesel price hike.
With the fuel bill taking a toll on the projected internal resources during the current fiscal and with no respite likely in 2013-14 either, the possible generation has been estimated in the range of just Rs. 7,000 crore the next financial year, the paper reports.
Meanwhile, the Central Government is unlikely to concede the demanded general budget support of Rs. 38,000 crore for the next financial year.
The grant during 2012-13 was Rs. 24,000 crore and the generation of international resources has been revised downwards to Rs. 10000 crore from the target of Rs. 18000 core, thus forcing reduction in the plan expenditure to Rs. 51000 crore from the budget target of Rs. 60000 crore.
The Centre has promised Rs. 1.94 lakh crore support during the 12th Plan, but the plan size is unlikely to see a big jump this year.
Therefore, the Railways have to find other ways and means such as commercial leasing and licensing of land, getting private players to executive infrastructure projects and reducing the dependence on diesel locomotives to tide over its financial requirements.
A new policy has helped receive about 40 proposals from the private players. The budget proposals might indicate how many of these have been finalised.
The Rail Land Development Authority will be under focus on how many multi functional centres and commercial sites it can develop and fast track modernisation of railway stations to raise non-tariff revenue during the next financial year. Unlocking land value is also top on the Railways' priority list.
Speeding up electrification of rail tracks is another area of top priority as it could cut down the diesel bill.
Bansal is expected to announce three projects to electrify the routes connecting Delhi with Ahmedabad and Jaipur.
The three projects covering 1087 km of rail track will cost Rs. 1121 crore. On completion in March 2018 it will save Rs. 522 crore on the diesel bill.
The completion of electrification of a major section of the Delhi-Howrah route recently will also allow increased train speed by up to three hours, thus allowing the introduction of new trains.
The Railway Ministry intends to add 45 heavy haul trains during the next financial year. Bansal is expected to announce the extension of about 50 loop lines to the required length of 1.5 km to park these long trains when not running on the tracks.
Apart from newer and faster trains, Bansal's basket is expected to contain at least four to five new dedicated freight corridors and his strategy to utilise the increased capacity to carry freight on these tracks as also to run more passenger trains once the freight trains are moved out of these tracks.
The Minister will unveil plans for more wagons, coaches and locos, besides and how the Ministry intends to go about meeting the deadline set by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for the execution of the Rs. 21000 crore elevated Rail Corridor in Mumbai, the eastern and western dedicated freight corridors, and the electric and diesel locomotive factories in Madhepura and Marhaura in Bihar.
The Prime Minister's directive also included setting up a Rail Tariff Authority to decide on passenger and freight rate hikes in tune with the volatility in diesel prices and cut down the financial burden of railways.
Bansal had on January 22 hiked passenger fares across-the- board after the Railways faced a loss of about Rs. 25,000 crore in the passenger segment.
Railways had aimed to mop up an additional revenue of Rs 6,600 crore but the fuel hike had wiped out Rs 3,300 crore.
Bansal could also announce several passenger-friendly measures such as improvement in catering service, maintaining cleanliness at rail premises, introducing Braille stickers in coaches for visually-challenged passengers and development of stations in his maiden Rail Budget.
Speculation is also rife about the announcement of 100 new trains, including AC double deckers, extension and increase of some popular passenger services.
The focus of the Budget is on providing more amenities to rail users.