States must share cost if they want railway projects: DV Sadananda Gowda What will be the focus areas of your Budget next month? We will be focussing on factors of safety, security and service. If we are able to implement these three successfully, then speed will be the fourth aspect we will be looking at. But the Railway finances are in a shambles... Yes, resources are a big issue. Some ministers in the past looked at announcing new projects, without bothering about their actual delivery. They did not see if resources were available to implement them. We have some Rs 5 lakh crore (Rs 5 trillion) worth of projects, announced by earlier regimes, on ground. But the ministry gets only about Rs 25,000 crore to Rs 30,000 crore by way of net revenue. There is a grave mismatch between the income and expenditure. Some on-going projects in Southern and South Western Railways will take about 45 to 50 years to complete. This is because in the past if a project worth Rs 1,000 crore was announced, only about Rs 10-15 crore was earmarked by way of token allocation. And, as we delay on projects, costs go up. How can we deliver projects if this is the situation? So, how will you deal with it? In the past, the ministry never looked at new avenues for resources like PPP or FDI. If the current pattern of funding continues, then we can't give any project to people. The ongoing projects themselves will take anywhere between 30 and 50 years for completion. So, we have to identify the projects that are critical in the larger interests of the country, and deliver them. Will you revise passenger fares and freight charges? Certainly; that is the need of the hour. Mallikarjuna Kharge, in the interim budget, proposed a hike of 5% in freight and 10% in passenger fares. He gave the Budget factoring in these revised tariffs, but did not implement them. Now, I am forced to do something because of the present situation of the Railways. I will now discuss with the finance ministry on the funding support. What about the projects announced in the interim Budget? We don't want to ignore them. But at the same time our approach is to complete important projects within a reasonable period of time. Can we expect some announcement on the Diamond Quadrilateral in the Budget? It is an important idea that we have in our mind. We need to have highspeed trains, and working on how to get funding for these projects: whether to go for public-private partnership (PPP), or FDI or raising funds through bonds. At this juncture, I can't discuss much on this. We will have to see how much resource that is going to be available from the ministry of finance. I will meet the finance minister in the next two days. How will you increase the role of the private sector? I am working with some private sector players, who are interested to invest money in Railways for construction of infrastructure like godowns, freight corridor, etc. The coal ministry has agreed to provide funds for the construction of special coal corridors. At another level, I have discussed with rural development minister Nitin Gadkari to extend MGNREGA for railway projects. We can make use of the scheme in projects involving earth work. Where do you stand on Railway modernisation? Private players have shown interest in railway developmental work. In fact, I need to start work on modernization from my own office. I want to see all tendering process converted into e-tendering and digitise Rail Bhavan. You talked of forming an expert group to advise you... Yes. I have already had one round of talks with E Sreedharan. After presenting the Budget, I will have a team of youngsters from IITs and IIMs to provide us with inputs and fresh ideas. Railways badly needs latest technology and innovation. Many CMs have high expectations from your ministry. How will you deal with them? The CMs of Odisha, Karnataka and Goa have met me. The Railways has a cost sharing arrangement with a few states like Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh. The state provides free land and bears half of the project cost. I have written to all CMs and urged them to contribute their share to Railway development in their respective states. I gave them the example of Karnataka to say other states too should contribute similarly. Of course, it is another matter when Siddaramaiah met me recently he said his state can't take the burden anymore. If a state can't share the burden it will be the loser.