In a role reversal of sorts, railways officials are heard asking this to journalists: “What’s happening?”
With the 92-year-old practice of a separate railway budget having been discontinued, ministry functionaries are curious and uncertain about ways in which they may need to redesign the way they have done their business. This year’s pre-budget drill is much the same. The committee of additional members — in consultation with finance ministry and the Niti Aayog functionaries — has continued to scrutinise proposals received from the zonal general managers.
The boards have maintained the practice of poring over the justifications or otherwise of including a scheme in the budget. Important files are being put up for the railways minister’s “consideration”.
Plans for setting up new factories or lines have continued to get forwarded for clearance from the Union cabinet. Even the “Pink Book” (containing details of projects included in the budget) is in the process of being finalised.
But an important element missing from this year’s budget presentation exercise is the nervous energy that could be felt at the Rail Bhavan in previous years. Reasons for this are not far to find.
With the rail budget having been scrapped, the state-owned transporter will no longer need to fret over finding resources to pay dividend to the Centre against the gross budgetary support component of the budget.
If adequate resources are not available for capital expenditure, the responsibility for this will no longer be of the railways ministry alone. “While these factors have saved one from the nerve jangling tensions of previous budgets, there is considerable amount of uncertainty this time because of other reasons,” admitted an official.
A rail budget has essentially had three components: A statement on “Ways and Means” (details on revenue and expenditure); a document announcing new policies or projects —and a declaration on fare and freight revision, if any.
“In coming years, the railways will need to submit proposals to the expenditure finance committee of the finance ministry, like other ministries do. The new process will be formalized over the next few years,” said R Sivadasan, former finance commissioner of the railways.
The private industry is upbeat about the ongoing transition process of the railways.