Obsessed about announcing grandiose schemes, successive railway ministers have continued to turn a blind eye towards a critical and hugely problematic issue: The ever-spiraling time and cost over-runs of projects.
Three hundred seventy six projects costing a whopping Rs. 1,05, 370.33 crore were pending until April last year, — the amount being two and a half times this year’s budgetary outlay of the Railways.
The “throw forward” amount of these projects is only marginally short of the total budgetary allocation of the Indian Railways during the remaining two years of the ongoing eleventh plan (estimated at Rs. 1, 35, 296 crore).
Railway board officials remain clueless about possible ways to generate the enormous funds required to execute projects that have been lingering — some for over three decades.
A rail link connecting Amta and Champadanga townships of West Bengal with Howrah was proposed and sanctioned three decades ago (first included in the 1974-75 budget).
The project has been held up because of a cost-sharing dispute between the Central and the state governments.
Project cost of the 272 km long New Mainaguri-Jogigopa rail line has climbed from Rs. 700 crore in 1999 to Rs1400 crore in 2009.
In last 10 years, only Rs. 400 crore has been spent.
HT sent a questionnaire to Chairman, Railway board S.S. Khurana in the matter. Khurana did not respond, while other top officials refused to comment.
“The cost of delayed projects has more than doubled in the last four years. The situation has gone completely haywire. Possibly, the ministry can seek a one-time grant from the Centre for the execution of delayed projects”, said Basudev Acharia (67), CPI (M) leader and former Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on railways.
Former Chairman, Railway board Satish Vaish (75) thinks that the Railways need to conduct a serious exercise on shutting down projects.
“A majority of these pending projects are those that have been included in the past budgets to please one member of Parliament or the another. The Railways has never been serious about implementing them. This kind of a drama must stop,” Vaish said.
During his tenure between 2004-09, former railways minister Lalu Prasad Yadav announced schemes worth more than Rs. 30,000 crore for Bihar alone: Diesel and Electric engine factories at Madhepura and Marora, besides a wheel factory at Chhapra – costing an estimated Rs. 10,000 crore apiece.