Senior officials at the Rail Bhawan are struggling with an impossible assignment set for them by new railways minister Mukul Roy: Of re-writing this year’s budget proposals.
At a meeting with members of the Railway Board early this week, Roy is understood to have directed officials to find ways to modify the budget’s “pink book”, which contains details of the works proposed to be undertaken by the public transporter during 2012-13.
Having reversed Trivedi’s passenger fare hike proposal and upturned “reformist” plans such as the setting up of a tariff regulatory authority and reorganising the Railway Board by including two additional members, the new railways minister is still not happy.
Roy is said to be particularly peeved that the “pink book” does not contain an emphasis that he desires for the fast execution of projects relating to Bengal, sources said.
The Railways Minister is unhappy that the allocations made for the four extensions of the Kolkata metro have actually come down (From Rs. 6,000 crore last year to Rs. 4,000 crore this year).
He is also said to be keen on bigger allocations for big-ticket Bengal projects including proposed railway workshops at Kachrapara, Majerhat and Dankuni.
The supplementary demands for grants of the Railways are scheduled to be discussed when Parliament’s budget session is re-convened on April 24.
“The budget will be deemed to have been passed when the appropriation bill (money bill) is passed by the Lok Sabha”, said PDT Achary, advisor to the Railways Ministry and former Lok Sabha secretary general.
Officials have virtually been burning the midnight’s oil to re-work the fresh mathematics of the Rail budget to make up for the shortfall of Rs. 6,500 crore caused in plan outlay because of the fare roll-back decision.
At a meeting of the TR Baalu-headed parliamentary standing committee on railways last week, officials of the Railways Ministry were at a complete loss on explaining how the shortfall of Rs. 6,500 crores would be met.
The next meeting of the standing committee has been scheduled for April 17.
For balancing the accounts, officials are working to bring about cuts in the allocations proposed under various heads including staff welfare, passenger amenities and even passenger safety.
The allocation for passenger safety works is being planned to be brought down from Rs.2,000 crores to Rs. 1,300 crore, sources said.
This will mean that technology-upgrade plans such as installing the Train Protection and Warning System (TPWS) and Anti-Collision Devices (ACDs) will get considerably slowed down.
Ambitious plans set out in the “Vision 2020” document to build new tracks and acquire new coaches will also have to be hugely compromised.
“The Railways are sinking. By September, the public transporter will have to borrow money to pay employees”, said Shiv Gopal Mishra, general secretary of the All India Railway men Federation (AIRF).
Once presented, the Railways budget becomes a property of the Lok Sabha and subsequent changes in the pink book are not constitutionally permissible.
“Modifications in the ‘pink book’ have never been done in the past. This is an impossible task of the new Railways Minister. The other and easier option for Roy is to move an amendment or a corrigendum enlisting a new expenditure statement of the budget – enlisting the changes he proposes”, sources said.
For juggling the allocations from one head to another, the Railways Ministry needs clearance from the Finance Ministry but does not need parliamentary sanction. “But in past years, the Railways Ministers have never bothered about such things”, sources said.