This is the first time in India that we have not had a separate railway budget. So, how has the merger with the Union Budget helped the railways and infrastructure sectors?
Several announcements totalling Rs 1,31,000 crore have been made for railways, mostly along the lines of what railway minister Suresh Prabhu introduced in the last two rail budgets.
1) A new metro rail policy is in the works. Focusing on innovative models of implementation and financing, as well as standardisation and indigenisation of hardware and software, the policy is expected to revitalise the sector and increase employment across the country.
2) A rail safety fund with a corpus of Rs 1,00,000 crore will be set up over a five-year period. This money will go towards improving safety in the railways.
3) Railways has set up joint ventures with nine state governments for executing 70 projects across the country.
4) 500 railway stations across the country will be made disabled-friendly with ramps, elevators and escalators.
5) 7,000 railway stations will be powered by solar power. Work has already begun on 300 stations, with 1,000MW of power to be generated across 2,000 stations in the next phase.
6) Cleanliness is set to improve. The Swachh Rail programme, currently operating on the SMS-based Clean My Coach platform, will be expanded with Coach Mitra as a single window for railway complaints.
7) Bio-toilets will be installed on all trains with 2019 as the target. Plants to convert solid waste to energy are being set up at New Delhi and Jaipur stations with five more expected to come up.
8) To improve competition with the private sector, the railways will implement end-to-end integrated transportation solutions for select commodities through partnership with logistics players, who would provide both front- and back-end connectivity. Rolling stocks and practices will be customised to transport perishable goods, especially agricultural products.
9) Service charge on online ticket-booking has been withdrawn to make it more appealing to the public.
10) As part of accounting reforms, accrual-based financial statements will be rolled out by March 2019.
11) There will be an improvement in the operating ratio of the railways. Rail tariffs will be fixed considering costs, quality of service, social obligations and competition from other forms of transportation.
12) A new Metro Rail Act will be enacted by rationalising the existing laws. This will facilitate greater private participation and investment in construction and operation.
Now, the rest of the infrastructure sector has also received a massive shot up the arm with an unprecedented allocation of Rs 3,96,000 crore.
1) Allocation has risen from Rs 57,976 crore in 2016-17 to Rs 64,900 crore in 2017-18.
2) 2,000km of coastal-connectivity roads have been identified for construction and development.
3) A specific programme for development of multi-modal logistics parks, together with multi-modal transportation facilities, will be drawn up and implemented.
4) Airports in tier-two cities will be taken up for operation and maintenance under a public-private partnership. The Airports Authority of India Act will be amended to enable effective monetisation of land assets, which will be utilised for upgrading airports.
5) Rs 2,41,387 has been allocated to the transportation sector, including rail, roads and shipping.
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