Railways freezes publicly funded works as pandemic bites

P Manoj Mumbai | Updated on August 07, 2020 Published on August 07, 2020

National transporter will take up only projects related safety

The Ministry of Railways has frozen all public-funded works “due to the circumstances prevailing in the current financial year” as the travel restrictions imposed by the pandemic hammer government finances.

The move follows a directive from the Finance Ministry on appraisal and approval of all public funded schemes and sub-schemes.

“New works/umbrella works included in Pink Book 2020-21 shall be kept in abeyance,” Ashish Singh, Director, Finance (Expenditure), Railway Board, wrote in a July 28 circular.

Essential works

“However, those works which impact the safe running of trains and are considered essential and inescapable may be considered for sanction. The essentiality of such works will be examined by concerned Additional Member, Additional Member/Works and Additional Member/Revenue,” Singh wrote in the circular.

The Pink Book has details of the annual budgetary allocation for railway projects across the country.

Umbrella works combine similar projects sanctioned at different locations giving flexibility to Zonal Railways to prioritise works.

Similarly, works which have been approved till 2019-20, “but have made insignificant physical progress shall be kept frozen till further orders except those which are essentially required for safe running of trains”, Singh stated.

Unutilised provision of umbrella works of 2018-19 and 2019-20, if any, “may be suspended”.

General managers of Zonal Railways/Production Units “may review the works already approved by them”.

Exemption for sanction of works which are considered “essential and inescapable” will be obtained from the Ministry of Finance, Singh wrote in the circular. The decisions have been approved by the Railway Board.

Indian Railways’ revenue has been hit by travel restrictions and stoppage of trains since March 24 to slow the spread of the coronavirus while the government finances have been strained by the bail-out package given to help industry and businesses cope with the impact of the pandemic.

All regular time-tabled passenger services, including mail/express trains, passenger and suburban services have been cancelled till August 12, entailing huge revenue loss to the Railways.

This has forced the Railway Ministry to look at public-private partnership (PPP) and seek greater involvement of the private sector to augment infrastructure and services.

In July, the Railways sought bids from private firms to run passenger trains on some 109 Origin-Destination (OD) pairs of routes through the introduction of 151 modern trains (rakes).

Budgetary support

The Railways was allocated ₹70,000 crore as budgetary support on a capital expenditure outlay of ₹1,60,792 crore in the Union Budget for 2020-21.

The budgetary support includes ₹12,000 crore for construction of new lines, ₹2,250 crore for gauge conversion, ₹700 crore for doubling, ₹5,786.97 crore for rolling stock, ₹1,650 crore for signalling and telecom, ₹700 crore for road safety works (level crossings), ₹4,350 crore for road safety works (road over/under bridges), ₹10,599.47 crore for track renewals, ₹777 for bridge works, ₹780 crore for other electrical works, ₹2,052 crore for workshop including production units and ₹2,725.63 crore for passenger amenities.

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Published on August 07, 2020
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