Centre promises Rs 1-lakh crore rail safety fund in five years, scraps service charges for e-tickets
Of the Rs 1.31-trillion announced for the sector, the Finance Ministry will provide Rs 55,000 crore.
The National Democratic Alliance government on Wednesday announced a Rs 1.31-trillion budget for the railway sector for 2017-2018. The Finance Ministry will put in Rs 55,000 crore of the total amount, while the national carrier will have to raise the rest of the funds.
While this year’s Budget is particularly significant because it comes right after the recent demonetisation drive, it is also the first time that the Railway Budget has been merged with the general Budget. The merger brought an end to the 92-year-old practice of having a separate railway budget.
The key takeaways from the announcements made pertaining to the railway sector include a proposal to create a rail safety fund with corpus of Rs 1 lakh crore over the next five years and scrapping service charges for e-ticket bookings through the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation website. At present, the IRCTC website charges Rs 40 as service charge for booking berths in air-conditioned compartments, and Rs 20 for sleeper class e-tickets.
Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who presented the Budget, also announced the government’s plan to make 500 rail stations more accessible to the differently abled by installing lifts and escalators in them. The government will build at least 25 new stations and commission railway lines of 3,500 km during 2017-2018, he said. The Indian Railways is expected to spend Rs 3,96,135 crore on infrastructure in the next financial year, Jaitley added.
Pointing to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Swachch Bharat campaign, the finance minister also said toilets in railway coaches will become more eco-friendly. “Our focus is Swachch Railways. All railway coaches will have bio-toilets by 2019,” Jaitley said. The government also promised to eliminate unmanned railway crossings by 2020.