Union Budget 2017-18: Aim to Create more Capacity to increase Speed of Trains, says Suresh Prabhu

Suresh Prabhu, Union Minister of Railways

The finance ministry has taken ahead the agenda set by the railways. in the first ever combined Budget, Rail Minister Suresh Prabhu tells in an interview. Edited excerpts:

Q: Do you think the allocation made to railways is enough to meet your targets?

A: We have had a capex of almost Rs 3.5 lakh crore during last three years in comparison to around Rs 1.5 lakh crore from 2012-2014 (the last three years of UPA II). So, money isn’t a concern anymore. We have leveraged extra-budgetary resources and can further raise funds from institutional investors if need be.

Q: There’s still a huge backlog of incomplete projects…

A: To spend that much money, we needed a structure. So, we delegated the powers to reduce the time lag. This has created an institutionalised capacity in the railways to spend to the tune of the magnitude we are talking about. Out of 67 decongestion projects which were announced last year, almost 60 are well under construction and the remaining are in final stages of award. We’ve never executed projects at such a pace.

Q: How do you intend to use the funds?

A: There’s a renewed focus on increasing throughput. Most of funds will go towards modernisation and safety heads. Station development is big on our agenda. We want to create more capacity to increase speed of trains. Freight and passenger loading is seeing an uptick. We need to invest in rakes as well. There will be a sea change in the entire railway system by the end of next financial year.

Q: Do you miss announcing new highspeed trains?

A: Budget merger is a big reform. This year’s Budget was not a railway budget. But if you look at the tenor of the overall budget for the railways, it is a continuation of the very broad theme that we had laid down in my first and second budget speech. The investment goes into modernisation, doubling of capacity, safety and issues like that. This budget is further articulating our agenda.

Q: How do you think you have fared on implementation of schemes announced in the last budget?

A: We have done a decent job. I started a tradition of presenting action- taken reports of budget announcements. Last fiscal, 132 initiatives were either completed or were on target. This financial year, out of 141 announcements, 136 initiatives are completed or on target. This is how we have brought accountability and transparency to the entire process. Some of the biggest reforms in railways have been carried out in the last two years — be it organisational restructuring, setting up of new structures like SRESTHA for R&D, SUTRA for data analytics, KRAs for managers, innovative financing, ERP, accounting reforms, rail regulator and new train products. In the next three years, we want to consolidate and build critical mass of the new services.

Q: What is your analysis of the Budget?

A: The Prime Minister and the finance minister are focusing on investment led growth. And also, the growth is married with social justice. Sectors such as agriculture and MSMEs which have job creation potential have been given special focus.