The Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project, expansion of Vande Bharat Express trains and opening of new dedicated freight corridors (DFC) are some of the major expectations of Indian Railways from the upcoming Budget 2022. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will present the Budget 2022 in the Lok Sabha on February 1 - which will be the sixth combined budget since the rail budget was merged with the union budget in 2017.
End of an era for railway-budget making in India
On February 25, 2016, Suresh Prabhu was the last railway minister to present a Railway Budget - separately from the Union Budget. Subsequently, in the next year, Arun Jaitley became the first Finance Minister to present a combined railway and union budget on February 1, 2017.
With this, the 92-year-old long history of the separate railway and union budgets - a practice that began in 1924 under the British rule, came to an end.
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In 2015, top government think-tank NITI Aayog's committee headed by economist Bibek Debroy suggested disbanding the practice of having a separate Railway Budget. The report was submitted to the then-railway minister Suresh Prabhu, who wrote a letter to the then-Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to merge the railway budget with the union budget.
Here's a summary of major railway announcements in the Union Budget since the merger of Railway Budget:
2017: In 2017, the then-Finance Minister Arun Jaitley presented the first combined budget, which was a landmark moment for Indian Railways. Jaitley announced an allocation of Rs 1.3 lakh crore - the largest in the history of Indian Railways, putting to rest the apprehensions that the combined budget will dissolve the focus on the national transporter.
In Budget 2017, the minister highlighted major areas of passenger safety, capital and development works, cleanliness as well as finance and accounting reforms.
In an unprecedented move, the finance minister also proposed the listing of railway subsidiaries, IRCTC, IRCON, and IRFC on the bourses. He announced the discontinuing of service charges for booking tickets through IRCTC.
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2018: In Budget 2018, the outlay for Indian Railways was further increased to a record Rs 1.48 lakh crore. The capital outlay catered to capacity creation, including track renewal and doubling, redevelopment of 600 railway stations, and gauge conversion.
The government also announced the development of world-class trains, equipped with state-of-the-art facilities with Train 18 and Train 20. Modern technological initiatives such as WiFi, CCTVs across stations and trains, were also unveiled.
2019: The allocation was further increased to Rs 1.6 lakh crore in budget 2019. Railways Minister Piyush Goyal announced the downsizing of the Railway Board from eight to five members, which would include the chairman, members for operation, infrastructure, business development, and finance. The Bibek Debroy Committee on Indian Railways had suggested the restructuring of the Railway Board in 2015.
2020: In Budget 2020, Finance Minister Nirmala Sithraman focussed on inviting private players for operating trains and redeveloping stations on the network. Ms Sitharaman announced that more Tejas Express-style trains will be introduced on major tourism routes and 150 private trains will be put into service in the next three-four years on the network.2021: Last year, Sitharaman allocated Rs 1,10,055 crore for the Indian Railways, out of which Rs 1,07,100 crore was for capital expenditure. It was proposed that the 263.7 km long Sonnagar - Gomoh section of the eastern DFC be taken up in the public-private partnership model. New DFC routes such as East Coast, East-West, and North-South were also proposed.