The Rail Budget for 2015-16 was passed by the Lok Sabha today with Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu making a strong pitch for a massive hike in investment for the Railways.
Announcing several schemes to make the Railways stronger technologically, financially and commercially, he said a strong push would be given to achieve a massive hike in the investment for railways, warning that if this was not done, the national transporter will “sink further and further”.
Allaying apprehensions that railways would be privatised, Prabhu said the behemoth was a national asset and its ownership will continue to remain with the people of India, nothwithstanding projects to seek private participation.
He also announced setting up of high-level new body, Kaya Kalp Council, to be headed by a distinguished person to turn railways into a vibrant organisation commercially with the participation of private sector.
Prabhu also sought to take the states on board declaring that they would be partners in progress of the Railways by executing several projects in their areas.
Detailing the massive increase in the allocation for the states, the Minister gave comparative figures of the last few years to drive home the point that each and every state has got more from the first Rail Budget presented by him.
He said several projects announced by his predecessors have been pending for long for want of funds, adding that raising money from outside including PSUs and multi-lateral agencies like World Bank, ADB and IFC was an option.
Citing the deal with LIC, he said plans were afoot to partner with other PSUs like Coal India to boost railway infrastructure.
Prabhu agreed with the concerns of several members that railways cannot just be a commercial enterprise but added that it can serve the poor only if it was strong and commercially viable.
Rejecting criticism of the freight rate hike proposal, he said it was in fact rationalisation of freight rate as it had gone down in some routes.
Citing a CRISIL report, he said the freight rate hike will have virtually no impact on inflation.