KOLKATA: On Wednesday, most of whatever Union finance minister Arun Jaitley allots to Bengal towards railway spending is likely to go to the Metro Railway kitty. The details will not be immediately available as the ‘Pink Book’ won’t be released till Friday, but at least five Metro projects in Kolkata that are nearing phase-wise completion will require major funds in 2017-18.
“We can’t say anything yet about allocations but Metro Railway wants the Noapara-Dakshineswar, Noapara-Airport, New Garia-Ruby Hospital, Joka-Majerhat stretches and phase I of the East-West Metro corridor to become operational by June, 2018. Most of the funds for any project are required during the completion stage. That is why there is likely to be major allocation in the Budget this year,” a senior railway officer in Kolkata said.
Apart from this, officials are keeping their fingers crossed. Most believe that Jaitley’s focus will be on broader policy aspects rather than individual projects. But then, that has been the norm ever since Suresh Prabhu took over as railway minister. With the railway budget becoming a part of the general Budget from 2017-18, things are likely to get tighter. This doesn’t mean that things will be bad for Bengal though. In 2016-17, the allocation for railway projects in Bengal was Rs 3,820 crore. Officials believe that the allocation for 2017-18 will go up.
“The days of populist railway budgets are over. ew trains will be introduced only if there is need. In fact, there are likely to be some harsh steps. Concession of children has already been withdrawn. The Budget may do away with direct concession for senior citizens. The railways wants to shed all such burdens. There are over a 100 concessions. The railways want other ministries to foot the concession bills just as the defence does for soldiers travelling with warrants. The present operating ratio of Indian Railways is around 114. The Centre wants to bring this down to below 100 by March 31,” another officer said.
Cutting of overheads will be one of the major steps. Railway officials are worried that non-core areas like health and education may suffer. There is concern that railway hospitals and schools may become a thing of the past. Non-essential posts will cease to exist and some departments may even get outsourced. For that matter, some even believe that preparations will start to wind up the Railway Protection Force (RPF), leaving railway security to agencies like the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF).
“There will be stress on passenger amenities. Providing more confirmed seats and berths is an area that the Budget may look into. Dynamic fares may be on their way out. There will also be freight rationalization to bring in more business. Stress will be on infrastructure development like new lines and rolling stock. Areas like safety and security will get a boost with funds from the Centre if necessary. ,” another senior railway officer said.