Less than a day before the Railway budget is presented in the parliament, former railways minister Dinesh Trivedi’s allegations against incumbent minister Suresh Prabhu of “fudging numbers” and concealing facts about the organisation’s financial health have surfaced in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, that also charges Prabhu of copying Trivedi’s earlier budget speech.
Citing that the current Operating Ratio (every paisa spent against a rupee earned) had reached alarming levels of 115% (i.e., an expense of 115 paisa against every rupee earned), Trivedi said the Indian Railways’ financial health has ‘sharply worsened’ in the last year. Prabhu took over as railways minister in November 2014.
“To show a better Operating Ratio, the Railways Minister made a grossly undervalued provision of Rs 5,500 crore as Depreciation Reserve Fund (DRF) for the 2015-16 fiscal. This was nothing but fudging of numbers amounting to misleading the country on the actual financial health of the railways,” Trivedi said in his letter to Modi, dated February 23.
Charging the Union minister of having done a “copy-paste” of his 2012-13 budget speech – including the investment proposal of Rs 8 lakh crore in the 12th plan period – Trivedi blamed Prabhu for having “failed to understand the implementation priorities”.
“The morale of employees is at its lowest ebb and – if immediate corrective steps are not taken – the Railways will head the Air India way and might soon need to borrow money to pay salaries to the 1.4 million employees,” said Trivedi, currently chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on railways.
Expressing serious concern over the crumbling state of rail economy in a hard hitting letter, Trivedi pointed out that the transporter logged a growth rate of 6% as against the targeted growth rate of 17%, resulting in a massive shortfall of Rs 17,000 crore in traffic earnings.
In his five-page letter, he said passenger volumes went down by over 200 million in the last two years, recording a negative growth of 3% in passenger and freight volumes, and a negative growth in productivity of every single vital aspect. “Core operating parameters are flashing red,” he cautioned, given the rising cost of operations and shrinking market margins.
“Not the ambitious 8.5 lakh crore Capital expenditure plan over the next five years, not the gloating about 360 degrees transformation of railways nor the Thumbs Up sign from JICA for a bullet train can hide the dark underbelly of growing concerns about the sharp deteriorating operating performance and financial health of the organisation,” Trivedi said.
Drawing Modi’s attention to “facts that might not have been provided to him”, the former minister said that against an operating cash surplus requirement of Rs 50,000 crore, the railways had only been generating an excess of Rs 20,000-25,000 crore in the last few years. “Next fiscal, the veil of window dressing of accounts will get completely lifted as – after the implementation of the 7th Pay Commission recommendations – the organisation will suffer an operating cash loss of Rs 32,000 crore.”
Given the current financial scenario, Trirvedi estimated that the railways would need a whopping revenue grant of Rs 68,000 crore and Gross Budgetary Support of Rs 40,000 crore in 2016-17.