With safety as the prime focus, railways minister Dinesh Trivedi on Wednesday spelt out five priority areas for his ministry over the 12th Five Year Plan.
"My focus will be safe safety, safety, safety," Trivedi told the Lok Sabha while presenting the rail budget for the next fiscal in the Lok Sabha. He added this was the decision he took as soon as he assumed charge of his ministry last year against the backdrop of a rail accident in Uttar Pradesh.
"I vow to target zero deaths," he said in his maiden rail budget speech. "I also propose to set up an independent railway safety authority, as recommended by an expert group headed by the former Atomic Energy Commission chairman Anil Kakodkar."
The other four focus areas listed by the minister were consolidation, de-congestion and capacity augmentation, modernisation and bringing down operating ratio.
Trivedi, a member of the Trinamool Congress, said the operating ratio of the railways - amount spent on running the network against revenues - will be lowered to 84.5% from the current 95 percent, and to 74 percent by the terminal year of the 12th plan.
This is key to the network being able to garner money for expansion and modernisation.
The minister said he was looking at the current budget not as an exercise for the next fiscal alone, but also for the entire five year plan, drawing from the Vision 2020 document of his predecessor and current West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee.
The Indian Railways run the third largest railroad network in the world spread over some 64,000 km, with 12,000 passenger and 7,000 freight trains each day from as many as 7,083 stations to ferry 23 million travellers and 2.65 million tonnes of goods daily.
Given the socio-economic role played by the railways in India's transformation, Trivedi also said time had come for formulating national policy for the network on the lines of those for defence and external affairs.
According to the minister, Indian Railways will invest Rs. 7.35 lakh crore during the 12th Five Year Plan period (2012-17), against Rs. 1.92 lakh crore in the current one. By then, it will double its contribution to India's gross domestic product to 2 percent.
Trivedi said the outlay of Rs. 60,100 crore proposed for 2012-13 will be the highest ever and added that the network will require Rs.14 lakh crore over the next 10 years for modernisation.