The Rajya Sabha approved the Railway Budget for 2015-16 on Tuesday as railways minister Suresh Prabhu made a strong pitch for higher investment. He said railways required Rs 8.5 lakh crore in the next five years and Rs 2 lakh crore would be utilised for network decongestion and an equal amount would be spent for network expansion.
Earlier, lawmakers expressed serious concern over railway safety and lack of facilities for passengers. Members also questioned the government’s plans to raise financial resources to be invested in the railways and asked for an investment timeline.
Replying to the debate in the Upper House, Prabhu said his estimate of Rs 8.5 lakh crore investment was lower than what had been previously estimated by the Planning Commission and the previous government.
Referring to the recent pact with LIC for getting Rs 1.5 lakh crore, Prabhu said his ministry expected Rs 3 lakh crore from the finance ministry as gross budgetary support in next five years, besides borrowings from multi-lateral agencies like World Bank, Asian Development Bank and International Finance Corporation.
With fuel cornering 25% of its expenditure and a massive 50% going to meet staff expenses, Prabhu said the Railways proposed to increase volume of operations to offset the cost borne on salary and other expenditures.
“This is the strategy that we are adopting to plough back money to meet railways’ expansion plans,” Prabhu said.
Prabhu allayed apprehensions about workers being retrenched as the public transporter seeks increased private participation and also added that the railways faced a “vicious circle” of under-investment.
“We will have to work on many issues. There has been less investment in the railways. We have not been able to put in money and as a result, railways have lost to roads in attracting goods traffic,” Prabhu said.