New Delhi, Mar. 14:
Union Railway Minister Piyush Goyal on Friday made a strong pitch for private investment in railways, saying it will help the Centre realise the goal of Rs 50 lakh crore investment in the sector over the next 12 years.
If it is only left to the government to raise all the money, then welfare schemes will be hit and it may be forced to boost revenue by raising taxes and fare, Goyal told Lok Sabha in his reply to a discussion on demands for grants of his ministry.
It was later passed by the House with a voice vote.
He favoured using skills of private sector and facilities it may bring at less cost, saying it will strengthen the railways and help its expansion.
There is a need for Rs 50 lakh crore investment in the railways in the next 12 years, Goyal said.
During the discussion, members of opposition parties like the Congress, TMC and the Left had spoken against any move to privatise the railways.
In his reply, Goyal gave a detailed reply to criticisms of his ministry by opposition parties as he defended the move to merge all eight services into a single service of Indian Railway Management Service and cited several figures to assert that the railways has improved on parameters like safety, punctuality, cleanliness and expansion.
Not a single death has occurred due to accidents in this financial year so far, he said, drawing applause from treasury benches.
Hitting out at the previous governments after many opposition members slammed the Modi dispensation for doing away with the presentation of a separate railway budget, he said they presented separate budget only to “mislead” people.
He said separate railways budget was only a “balloon” and only attracted “claps” in the House.
He said the “fake” announcements used to only “mislead people in elections”.
Citing some examples, the Railways Minister said some projects are pending since 1974.
He said allocations for the sector was enhanced to Rs 1.61 lakh crore this year from Rs 54,000 crore in 2013-14.
The increased allocation is being used on 58 super critical and 68 critical projects, he said, adding the current government fixes big target and make all efforts to achieve that.
“We fixed a target for electrification of 6,000 km of rail line and reached 5,200 km as against 600-650 km of electrification in 2013-14,” he said.
Goyal also criticised the previous governments on pension funds for the sector, stating they did not take any steps to strengthen this fund.
“In 2014, this fund was very low. We built that adequately,” he said, adding this government took calibrated steps to increase revenues for railways, rather than hiking fares by 60-70 per cent and burdening passengers.
On criticism over slow pace of work in states, the minister said if states provide help in terms of land availability and other clearances, the project will be implemented at a fast pace.
For north-eastern states, he said several projects are underway.
The railways has started tendering process to launch 44 more Vande Bharat Express, high speed trains, in the country.
Earlier about 60 help lines numbers were there for registering complaints, but “we have only one (139) for general complaints” and another (182) for security-related matters.
He said the ministry has sent a written reply to all members who have participated in the discussion.
Goyal said the work on Banihal-Baramula rail line is going on at a fast pace in Jammu and Kashmir and will be completed in two to two and and half years. This will include the world’s biggest rail bridge over Chenab river.
Asserting that his ministry has prioritised passenger safety, he said safer coaches have been brought in and all unmanned crossings barring a stretch in Rajasthan.
Bio toilets have been introduced in 99 per cent of coaches, he said.
Hailing Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his “360 vision”, Goyal said he has given him a target of installing solar power of 20000 MW capacity on empty land owned by the railways.
The railways, he added, has also recruited over 1.37 lakh persons in the last three years.
Responding to the criticism of the decision to merge all railways services, he said most officers have welcomed it as the government went for it after wide consultations.
Some young officers are apprehensive, he said, adding that the ministry is in touch with them to address their concerns, and that “no harm will come to anyone’s career”.
It is a short-term pain that will result in long-term gains, he said.