On a day when the Budget lined up about Rs 50-trillion investments in the railway sector till 2030, Railway Minister Piyush Goyal discussed plans to get more private players on board. Shine Jacob reports:
How different is the Budget in terms of a larger message compared to the interim Budget?
The interim Budget was only a subset of this one. At that time, we were only going for a vote on account for four months. It is almost like a continuation.
A big thrust has been given to the ease of living for the middle and lower-middle classes. There is an effort to bring in Rs 100-trillion investments in infrastructure across sectors over the next five years. Everyone should have a home with access to toilets, an LPG connection and electricity.
Manufacturing is also a major focus. We have plans to promote electric vehicles (EVs); tax benefits are being given to those purchasing EVs. This is good as pollution has become a major concern. Both rural and urban India have been given a thrust. There are huge benefits for the micro, small and medium enterprises. This is a reform-orientated Budget.
The Railways is expected to see investments to the tune of Rs 50 trillion by 2030. Which are the key focus areas?
We have lined up a whole gamut of investments for regional connections, through government expenditure as well as private funding.
Some of the old projects like 100 per cent electrification, advanced signaling, better passenger amenities, station redevelopment — these are already in the public domain. Now, we are thinking about what should be done to increase additional capacities so that our share of freight can again start going up.
Are we going to see privatisation of the Railways?
Not at all. Are all roads in India privatised? Are governments not playing a role in airports or ports? If they (private players) want to set up lines for a specific requirement, I see no reason to object. It will expand the opportunity and passengers will also benefit. We already have partnerships with companies such as Coal India and NTPC. We have to expand and fast-track this.
Are you saying public-private partnerships (PPPs) are going to be the way forward for the Railways?
Wherever we view opportunities we will try to invite PPPs. If someone wants to set up a semi-high-speed corridor between two cities, we are happy to consider such proposals. If someone wants to bring new technologies to India and faster line transport, we are open to such technologies. Like in Mumbai, we have monorail. Unfortunately, the party that set it up failed and hence the government had to take it up and do it. One failure doesn’t mean everybody is going to fail.
The Budget is focusing on dedicated freight corridors. Do we expect an increase in freight traffic too?
Our share in freight has gone down to 30 per cent. We are trying to see whether we can increase it to more than 30 per cent. We want to enhance capacity addition in the entire railways sector. Going forward, if I can bring down the cost of logistics, I have to expand the network.
The operating ratio for the current year is kept at 95 per cent. How will you achieve this?
There are so many ways such as cost efficiency, better procurement, efficient maintenance, less safety related issues, more mechanisation of the network, raising non-fare revenue, and monetisation of some assets that are already there. We have many ways to do it.
Gold import duty has been increased. How do you see this development?
At the end, people gradually will start monetising their gold. I think as a nation it will be best if we reduce imports and focus on monetising the available gold. People say there are thousands of tonnes of gold in India. Different estimates are there.
Fuel and gas may be expensive now. Railways is also a bulk consumer of diesel. What will the impact of this on national transporter?
When prices were up we had cut it (duty on fuel). International prices and dollar rates are down now. However, infrastructure requirements are not down. Infrastructure is the need of the hour and if we have to do a bit to finance that.
We are moving so rapidly to electrification. I don’t see any significant impact of this on the railways. We are almost carrying half our passengers and half our freight on electrified routes now. Speed of electrification is so fast in another three to four years we will not be having any need for diesel. Hence, I am not worried about it.