Budget 2016: After its 7th Pay Commission Rs 40,000 crore ‘request’ denied, Indian Railways wants FinMin to bear PSO bill

Budget 2016: After 7th Pay Commission Rs 40,000 crore request of Indian Railways was denied, Rail Ministry Rail Ministry wants cost of its Public Service Obligations in 2016-17 to be shared by the finance ministry – Indian Railways has demanded that Budget 2016 bear the PSO cost. The PSO, sources said, includes a part of passenger subsidies but not all of it, as the Indian Railways is still to figure out what PSO is.
Even as experts call for an overhaul of the operations of the Indian Railways and its corporatisation, the transporter’s losses from the passenger segment and public service obligations are rising relentlessly and it is now looking for some relief from Budget 2016 (Union Budget 2016 presentation date is February 29).
Indian Railways gives as many as 53 types of concessions in passenger fares. Because of the various subsidises and concessions the transporter provides, Indian Railways had to bear an overall loss of Rs 32,000 core in FY14 for running passenger operations. All of passenger categories except AC three-tier are making losses for the Indian Railways.
Sources in the ministry of railways told FE that Indian Railways social obligation cost would be around Rs 34,000 crore this financial year, steeply higher than about Rs 25,000 crore in FY14. The figure is believed to have stood at over Rs 30,000 crore last financial year, although no official estimate is still out.
The Indian Railways carries out numerous transport activities which are uneconomical in nature but are considered to be in the larger interest of the society. The items which fall under PSOs and are making losses, include transport of essential commodities carried below cost, subsidies and concessions on passenger fares and other coaching services, operation of uneconomic branch lines and new lines opened for traffic during the last 15 years.
“There is no clarity on whether the Indian Railways is a commercial entity or a tool to meet social service obligations. As the transporter needs to invest a lot of money for the expansion and up keep of its infrastructure, there needs to be a proper framework to compensate the Indian Railways on the losses it makes on running passenger operations and the cost it incurs for meeting its public service obligations,” said Abhay Krishna Agarwal, Partner Infrastructure & PPP at EY LLP.
Sources said even the Standing Committee on Indian Railways has recommended the government to work out a procedure on the basis of which the public service obligation costs are reimbursed to the railways. Documents accessed by FE reveal that the finance ministry wants an independent body to evaluate and define what qualifies under ‘public service obligation’ for railways and also decide on the extent of relief which can be claimed from the government under it.
“Utilising your track for providing compensations and subsidises and running below cost operations is not a prudent way of running operations, who is stopping you from increasing passenger fares, political compulsions should not be factored into while deciding fares,” Raghvan Sivadasan, former railway board member said.
While the finance ministry wants an independent body to evaluate and decide on the quantum of burden to be shared, the ministry of railways has proposed an Inter-Ministerial Committee to be set-up for evaluating the impact and the framework of sharing the public service obligation cost borne by the railways. As an interim measure the transporter wants the general revenue to bear a certain percentage losses incurred by the Indian Railways in FY16.

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