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Rs 1.31 lakh crore to develop Railways

New Delhi, Feb 1: Fince Minister Arun Jaitley on Wednesday proposed to allocate Rs 131,000 crore as capital and development expenditure for the Indian railways during fiscal 2017-18.

The Union budget emphasised on providing railway passengers with better amenities and more safety, as Jaitley announced a special ‘Rail Safety Fund’ of Rs one lakh crore, which was earlier announced in 2002 by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.

This is the first time that expenditure, fiscal support and various sector-specific schemes for the railways was announced in the Union Budget.  The decision to merge the standalone Railway Budget with the general Budget was taken by the Union Cabinet last year.

“For 2017-18, the total capital and development expenditure of railways has been pegged at Rs 131,000 crore. This includes Rs 55,000 crore provided by the government,” Jaitley said, presenting the Union Budget 2017-18.

“Among other things, the railways will focus on four major areas — passenger safety, capital and development works, cleanliness and fince and accounting reforms.”

He said the “Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh (Railway Safety Fund) will be created with a corpus of Rs one lakh crore over a period of five years”.

“Besides seed capital from the government, the railways will arrange the balance resources from their own revenues and other sources.”

The minister elaborated that railways will elimite all the unmanned level crossings by 2020 — one of the major reasons for train accidents in India.

“Expert intertiol assistance will be harnessed to improve safety preparedness and maintence practices,” Jaitley said.

The minister informed the Parliament that new railway lines of 3,500 km will be commissioned in 2017-18, as against 2,800 km in 2016-17.

“Steps will be taken to launch dedicated trains for tourism and pilgrimage,” he said.

Emphasising on the station redevelopment, Jaitely said that at least 25 stations were expected to be awarded during 2017-18 for station redevelopment.

“(Some) 500 stations will be made differently abled friendly by providing lifts and escalators.”

The Fince Minister proposed to feed about 7,000 stations with solar power in the medium term to save energy.

“A beginning has already been made in 300 stations. Works will be taken up for 2,000 railway stations as part of 1,000 MW solar mission.”

He is proposed to introduce ‘Coach Mitra’ facility — a single window complaint system to maintain railway cleanliness.

“By 2019, all coaches of Indian railways will be fitted with bio toilets,” he said.

“Pilot plants for environment friendly disposal of solid waste and conversion of biodegradable waste to energy are being set up at New Delhi and Jaipur railway stations.”

Besides, five more such solid waste magement plants are now being taken up.

In addition, the service charge on railway tickets booked through IRCTC (Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation) will be withdrawn.

“Railways will offer competitive ticket booking facility to the public at large. Service charge on e-tickets booked through IRCTC has been withdrawn,” he said.

Currently, Rs 40 on every ticket booked in air-conditioned classes and a service charge of Rs 20 on every ticket booked in sleeper class is levied by the IRCTC when tickets are booked through its website.

The Fince Minister said that cashless reservations have gone up from 58 per cent to 68 per cent in recent times.

Moreover, a new Metro Rail policy will be announced, which is expected to open up new jobs for the youths.

The minister informed the Parliament that the shares of public sector enterprises in the railway sector like IRCTC, Indian Railway Fince Corporation Limited and Ircon Intertiol Limited will be listed on the stock exchanges. (IANS)

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Ankur Kalita