Railway Safety Has Been Short of Funds, Needs Early Increase

Train Accident 2

Several senior experts and officials have rightly emphasized that safety should get the topmost priority in railways management. In financial terms railway safety requirements were estimated in year  2015-16 at INR 1,54,000 crore ( one crore=10 million) by official experts and a decision was taken to meet the major share of INR 1,19,000 crore out of this from a special fund to be set up initially for 5 years to be called Rashtriya Rail Saranksha Kosh (RRSK). This was to have an annual budget of INR 20,000 crore, with INR 15,000 crore being contributed by gross budgetary support (GBS) and INR 5000 crore to be raised from internal resources of Railways.

Later this was extended by five years, but the resources were reduced leading to funds crunch for safety, particularly when these cuts followed soon after a crash in resources during the COVID year. Hence there is an urgent need to increase resource availability for railway safety.

Going back to 2015-16, while the need for RSSK was estimated at INR 1,19,000 crore over a 5 year period, actually it got only 1,00,000 crore, so that it started with a deficit of INR 19,000 crore. However the actual spending has been generally below this too, below the norm of 20,000 crore per year (1,00,000 crore divided by 5) as is evident from the budget figures in INR crore given in table 1.

Table 1—RRSK Budgetary Resources

Actual Expenditure 2017-18—16091

Actual Expenditure 2018-19—18015

Actual Expenditure 2019-20—15024

Actual Expenditure 2020-21—314

Actual Expenditure 2021-22—24,731

Revised Estimate 2022-23—11,000

Budget Estimate 2023-24—11,000

While presenting these figures the 14th report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee of the 17th Lok Sabha (PSC) noted recently that the apportionments for the RRSK have been consistently falling short of commitments. It is clear that while there was shortfall even in the first three years, there was a further big crash in the COVID year. While efforts to make up were made next year, the lesser resources in the next two years worsened the situation. There was no need for a crash in the COVID year as the GBS funding was already committed and actually it is easier to do some of the safety work like track renewal, construction and some repairs when passenger trains are not running. There was also no justification for reducing RRSK funding while renewing it for five more years.

While at the rate of INR 20,000 crore per year (not providing for need for inflationary increase ) a sum of 140,000 crore was needed in 7 years, Table 1 reveals a total availability of INR 96,000 crore only during 7 years, or a shortfall of INR 44,000 crore. This, combined with the initial shortfall of INR 19000 crore, adds up a shortfall of INR 63,000 crore, or INR 9,000 crore per year.

Unfortunately the railways have been faltering in meeting their commitment of internal resources. This is evident from Table 2, which tells us to what extent the railways fell short of the target of providing INR 5000 crore from internal resources ( all figures in INR crore).

2017-18—0 (100% of target unmet)

2018-19—3024 (40% of target unmet)

2019-20—201 (96% of target unmet)

2020-21—1000 (80% of target unmet)

Total for 4 years—4225 ( 79% of target not met)

Thus it is clear from this table that instead of providing INR 20,000 crore for the first 4 years from internal resources as per commitment, the railways merely provided INR 4225 crore ( 21%), while failing to provide INR 15,775 crore(79%). While providing these figures the 22th report of year 2022 of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) titled ‘Derailment in Indian Railway’has stated that this has defeated the primary objective of creation of RRSK to support absolute safety in the Railways. Earlier a Parliamentary Committee had stated pointing to same factors that the purpose of RRSK is being eroded.

The CAG report also noted that the utilization of RRSK has not followed the priorities as rigorously as was needed, at times diverging more towards lower priorities or even some expenses which cannot strictly be said to be within the scope of safety. In fact, even a top priority aspect like track renewal has at times unexplained budget falls, as is evident from Table 3 based on PSC figures. This gives data only for RSSK funds devoted to track renewal, and there can be additional funding for track renewal which is not covered here. These figures are in INR Crore.

Table 3—RRSK Funds for Track Renewal

Actual Expenditure 2017-18—8904

Actual expenditure 2018-19—9697

Actual Expenditure 2019-20—8314

Annual Expenditure 2020-21—0.17

Actual Expenditure 2021-22—16262

Revised Estimate 2022-23—2041

Budget Estimate—2023-24—1400

Clearly there is an urgent need for increasing funds for meeting safety needs of Railways and in particular for strengthening the RRSK.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Man over Machine, Planet in Peril and A Day in 2071.

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