Railway Budget 2021: On February 25, 2016, Suresh Prabhu became the last railway minister to present a Railway Budget – separately from the Union Budget. On February 1, 2017, Arun Jaitley became the first Finance Minister to present a combined railway and union budget. This marked the end of an era in railway budget-making in the country; with that, a 92-year-old long history of separate railway and union budgets came to an end. In 2015, the merger of the Union Budget with Railway Budget had its genesis in NITI Aayog as a committee headed by economist Bibek Debroy suggested disbanding the practice of having a separate Railway Budget. (Also Read: Union Budget 2021: Indian Railways To Seek Investment Of ₹ 30,000 Crore For Running Private Trains )
Here’s a summary of major railway announcements in the Union Budget since the merger of Railway Budget:
In 2017, the then Finance Minister Arun Jaitley presented the first combined budget, which proved to be a watershed moment for Indian Railways. Mr Jaitley laid to rest the apprehensions that the combined budget will dissolve the focus on the national transporter by announcing the largest allocation of Rs 1.3 lakh crore to Indian Railways in its history. In Budget 2017, the minister highlighted four major areas of passenger safety, capital and development works, cleanliness as well as finance and accounting reforms.
The finance minister, in an unprecedented move, also proposed the listing of railway subsidiaries, IRCTC, IRCON, as well as IRFC on the bourses. He announced the discontinuing of service charges for booking tickets through IRCTC. In a key initiative for ensuring passenger safety, he announced the creation of the Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh with a corpus of Rs 1 lakh crore spread over five years.
In Budget 2018, the finance minister increased the outlay for Indian Railways to a record Rs 1.48 lakh crore. From the perspective of the railway authorities, Budget 2018 focused on capital expenditure. The capital outlay primarily catered to the capacity creation, including track renewal and doubling, gauge conversion as well as modernisation of 600 railway stations.
The government also announced the development of world-class trains, equipped with state-of-the-art facilities, namely – Train 18 and Train 20. Technological initiatives such as WiFi, CCTVs across stations and trains, ‘Fog Safe’ and ‘Train Protection and Warning System.’ were also unveiled.
In Budget 2019, Indian Railways received the highest ever outlay of Rs 1.6 lakh crore. Passenger safety received priority, with the establishment of the Nirbhaya Fund for an Integrated Emergency Response Management System. Railway Minister Piyush Goyal announced the downsizing of the Railway Board from eight to five members, which would include the chairman, and members for operation, business development, infrastructure as well as finance.
In 2015, the Bibek Debroy Committee on Indian Railways had recommended the restructuring of the Railway Board on the ground that the centralised structure and departmentalisation of the Railways severely affected the work culture and narrowed its approach to department-specific goals.
Budget 2020 focussed on inviting private players for operating trains or for station redevelopment projects and also highlighted the modernisation of the entire national rail network In Budget 2020, Finance Minister Nirmala Sithraman announced that more Tejas Express-style trains will be put into service on major tourism routes. Tejas Express trains are a more premium version of the Shatabdi-style air-conditioned chair car trains.
The minister spoke on Indian Railways’ initiative to operate private trains, for which it seeks investment from private players. 150 private trains will be introduced on the network in the next three-four years. Ms Sitharaman announced kisan rail for farmers that will be set up through the public-private partnership (PPP) model.