New Delhi: Facing flak for the lack of capital expenditure and delays in implementation of major projects, the rail ministry has swung into action. It is tweaking the established process for project approvals to cut down delays. It is also drawing up mega spending plans to free up over-burdened lines.
The earlier time-consuming model involved inclusion of projects in the rail budget, seeking in-principle approval of NITI Aayog, clearance from the extended railway board, approval of the Union Cabinet, preparation followed by sanction of final location surveys and detailed estimates by the zonal railways and finally invitation of tenders.
“The entire process from conceiving a project to floating tenders used to take two-and-a-half years. But now, a Committee of Executive Directors is selecting projects that are sent to the NITI Aayog for in-principle approval,” said a senior rail ministry official.
Another official explained the new approach has not dropped any stage of clearance, but has merely changed the traditional sequential process of seeking approvals, under which project files used to move from one table to another, into a parallel one. “Zonal railways are being asked to carry out final location survey immediately after inclusion of the work in the budget. After that, zonal railways will send the detailed project report (DPR) to the railway board with a reasonably firm cost.”
After examination of the DPRs in the railway board, the ministry sends request to NITI Aayog for in-principle approval. The ministry has advised zonal railways to call tenders immediately after the Aayog’s approval. “This has effectively reduced tender calling period from two years after inclusion of a project in the Pink Book to six to nine months,” the second official said.
Rail minister Suresh Prabhu had included 77 doubling projects, four new lines and one gauge conversion project in this year’s budget to create additional carrying capacity and de-congest existing lines. The 77 doubling projects would require Rs 90,000 crore of investments and provide relief of 9,000 km. Of these 77 projects, DPRs of 69 have been prepared and received in the Railway Board.
Officials said the in-principle approval for 15 of these projects have been received from NITI Aayog. Of these, four projects costing around Rs 1,000 crore each are currently being sent to the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs for approval. In addition, through a notification issued last month, the ministry has given zonal railways more powers to sanction detailed estimates in order to reduce delays. Also, the zonal arms of railways have been granted the power for accepting all tenders.
“In many of the 28 projects on saturated corridors, we have given the directive to the zonal railways to invite tenders as a special case in anticipation of sanction. This is a departure from the normal process because business-as-usual approach would not have worked. We hope that in another months’ time, we will be able to break the ground at the project sites,” the first official quoted above said.
The railways ministry has a target for capital expenditure of Rs 1 lakh crore for the current financial year. Civil works (doubling, gauge conversion and new lines) alone would account for 43 per cent of this investment. Officials said the ministry had already spent around Rs 35,000 crore in the first half of FY16, a marginal growth over the capex undertaken in the corresponding period in FY15.
Riding on the back of the reformed project execution process, the rail ministry is targeting to commission projects at an average rate of 6.85 km a day in the current financial year, a 26 per cent jump over the last year’s rate of 5.4 km a day.
Between April and September this year, railways commissioned projects of 673 km against 600 km in the same period last year.