Depoliticisation of Railways will start now: Suresh Prabhu in an Interview

Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu spoken with Media in an interview that he has sought to uncouple the railways from politics in his budget. Excerpts:

You are perhaps the first minister who has not announced any new train or big project (in the railway budget). What prompted this decision?

This is just the first step. Depoliticisation of the railways will start with this budget. I read the budget speeches made by previous ministers and the list of new trains, projects and even stoppages ran into pages. I don’t see any sense in it.

But you did not increase passenger fares. Does your budget run the risk of being termed populist?

How could I have increased the fares? Diesel prices are down. It is another matter that the railway fuel bill has gone up since electricity costs have gone up. We buy electricity at Rs 7 per unit. The passenger fares were increased last year. Unless the railways are able to provide basic facilities to passengers, how can we charge them more?

What about the increase in freight charges? Doesn’t it add to the cross subsidy (of passenger fares)?

We have actually rationalised the freight (rates) as some aberrations were there. It will go up for some commodities and come down for others. The economy is picking up and we have given targets to our zones for freight carriage, which is expected to rise. The gain for railways in terms of revenue (Rs 4,000 crore) is not much.

It is believed that you asked for Rs 50,000 crore as GBS but only got Rs 40,000 crore. Why is that?

A plan of Rs 1 lakh crore is the biggest ever and the amount of money required by railways is mammoth. We cannot rely only on GBS. Even the finance minister will have to raise the money from the market. Better we do it (ourselves).

You have mentioned forming joint ventures (JVs), special purpose vehicles (SPVs) and other new avenues of generating resources.  How do you think these will work?

This is the first time we are making an effort. We will be taking a project-oriented approach while going in for JVs and SPVs. Where states are concerned, JVs will not be based on projects only but will be more broad-based. World over, infrastructure creation is done through extra-budgetary sources (EBS). We cannot rely only on gross budgetary support (GBS).

What are you planning to encourage public-private participation (PPP) projects and funding for them?

We are in the process of making a policy that will make PPP projects more attractive and feasible. It is a legacy problem. A good policy will create projects.

You haven’t touched the issue of the railways’ vast land holdings. Railway companies globally have developed by selling surplus land. What are your plans?

Railway land is not properly demarcated and there are problems of encroachments. If we try to sell it, we will run into controversies. It is better to monetise it than to sell it.