New Delhi: In his first interview after presenting the rail budget, railway minister Suresh Prabhu tells that he is keeping a hawk-eye on implementing the budget promises and has put in place a mechanism for timely rollout of projects in the state-run transporter.
What view has the ministry taken on the Bibek Debroy panel report?
Bibek Debroy and his colleagues submitted the report to me only on Thursday and according to them, this is a draft report and they said these are not final recommenda tions. So, we have to wait for the final report. I have suggested that they should also seek views from our employees and our unions because sometimes, the communication gap leads to misunderstand ing. They also agree with that.
Rail reforms are very difficult considering that railways has 13 lakh employees and they have rejected the report.
Wait for the final report. Debroy was telling me that some reports which have appeared as recommendations have some communication gap.
In the budget, you talked about attracting pension funds for railway infrastructure. What is the progress?
First, money is not the only mission of railways. Railways is not a bank. We need money only to meet our capital requirement which we estimated at Rs 8.50 lakh crore over five years. Right now, we don’t need money for the current year. We have already got Rs 1.50 lakh crore from LIC. We are in talks with World Bank, IFC and ADB for more money. In our budget, we talked about Rs 1.50 lakh crore for station development which is completely coming out of private sector so I don’t have to arrange money for that. Then, there are two untapped sources.
One is tax free bonds which the FM has talked about in his budget speech for the first time, and the second is India Infrastructure Development Fund which aims to raise Rs 2 lakh crore in five years. So, we can draw around 50% of this amount. Plus, we have al ready signed an agreement with coal ministry and are in talks with other ministries and NTPC so that (freight) customers can pool in money. Plus, finance ministry has been giving money regularly, around Rs 60,000 crore per year, so that itself will become Rs 3 lakh crore in five years. All the money crore in five years. A put together is more than what is required.
Also, pension funds, sovereign wealth funds and other options are there. We are in talks with Japanese, Chinese and Canadian pension funds. We can use these resources for development of other infrastructure
Are you talking about the infrastructure fund that finance minister mentioned?
In Japan, the rate of interest is very , very low, in fact, more or less flat for a long time because the economy is not growing, inflation is very low. So, they are facing a double whammy -low inflation and low demand. They need to invest outside and this meets our require ment. Look at China’s sovereign wealth fund. It is worth $4 trillion.We are offering something which is not soft financing or bilateral help. This is purely on commercial consideration for investment into another market which benefits them. Canada has the same problem, $2 trillion of pension fund which is more than the size of its economy. They have to invest out side.Fund availability for India’s infrastructure is going to be immense.
I can tell you something interesting on what we can do. We have public sector units which have very good balancesheets. When they execute a project, the advantage is they will be able to raise resources on their own balance-sheet. They can borrow from their own balance-sheet and they can leverage.
What is the progress on decongesting the network?
Today is the 10th day of the new financial year and I am very happy to say that each and every budget announcement has been made into actionable points and we have already reviewed it three times. We are trying to monitor the implementation at three levels. I have asked my colleague minister (MoS) to monitor it regularly. Chairman of railway board has been directed to take feedback from board members every 15 days. Another layer is online monitoring. Two kinds of monitoring, one is for project implementation, other is for nonproject implementation such as food quality. For projects, it will go through various phases of approvals. Our target is to get work started in September. We are targeting implementation but completion will not happen before three years.
Do you think it is possible to fulfill these big ideas under the current railway board structure?
Each and every idea in the budget speech is under implementation and through the same system. In the last 10 days, I have had meetings with five zones which account for 70% of the freight traffic. In the last 10 days, I visited 10 states and met general managers, divisional railway managers. They are extremely excited to work on these ideas. I don’t see any issue in terms of railway board and, in fact, railway board chairman is monitoring it.