Facing crunch of funds, railways minister Mamataa Banerjee plans to cut down the allocation of passenger safety works by approximately R350 crore, even as she intends to make symbolic announcements for poll-bound West Bengal.
From an outlay of R1,124 crore for safety works last year, the allocation in the upcoming budget has been slashed to R901 crore. This means is that critical safety works including plans for installing the train protection warning systems (TPWS) and anti-collusion devices (ACDs) will get slowed down. Apart from this, critical signalling and telecommunications works will also take a hit.
Although funds are unavailable, Banerjee is planning to announce the extension of ACD trials in three railway zones: The Kolkata-based Eastern and South Eastern Railways, apart from the Hajipur-based East Central zone.
Banerjee’s budget speech will have a defined Bengal-skew, as she plans to announce R10 crore plan for providing optical fibre cable (OFC) connectivity at as many as 85 flag stations in the Howrah and Sealdah divisions. Located at wayside spots, flag stations are those that have no presence of railway staff and where facilities such as ticket-vending machines do not exist.
Of the seven substantial recommendations put out by a railways committee headed by tech-guru Sam Pitroda, just one is likely to find mention in the railways minister’s budget speech — the real-time train information system (RTIS) plan.
Other big-ticket schemes, including the launch of a railways satellite and launching the rail television, have been dropped. To implement the ACD plan, the railways had asked the finance ministry to allocate R8 crore.
But the finance ministry has sanctioned less than a quarter of the amount, sources indicate. An allocation of R12.5 crore had been made for implementing the ACD plan in the last budget. Cost of implementing the plan is estimated at R14 lakh per route kilometre.
Plans for laying the OFC network along 15,000 route kilometres and providing broadband and Wi-Fi connectivity to 7,000 railway stations and 4 lakh villages are likely to get slowed down.