New Delhi: There will be no separate railway budget from next financial year, putting an end to a practice that started in 1924, with the finance ministry agreeing to the proposal to merge the transporter’s annual exercise with the general budget.
Government sources told TOI that the finance ministry has constituted a five-member committee of officers to work out the modalities for the exercise, which will end the annual budget speech , often followed closely for project announcements, by the railway minister.
The move is significant as in recent years, particularly since coalition governments post-1996, political heavyweights have used the railway budget to hand out goodies and for their own image building. With the railway portfolio often held by regional biggies, the budget reflected political priorities of the incumbent. The railway bureaucracy has also dug in its heels in the past.
Railway minister Suresh Prabhu ‘s readiness to give up the limelight is a break from the past as BJP seems in a position to dump the railway budget as its solid majority in Lok Sabha enabled it to retain the portfolio rather than handing it to an ally.
The move to discard the British-era practice of a separate rail budget by the Modi government comes after a two-member committee comprising Niti Aayog member Bibek Debroy and Kishore Desai recommended the exercise be scrapped. Prabhu had told Rajya Sabha on Tuesday that he has asked finance minister Arun Jaitley to merge the railway budget with general budget in long-term interest of national transporter as well as the country’s economy. The minister, however, was non-committal about the timeline for the merger.
Once the rail budget is merged with the general budget, railways will be like any other government department that receives budgetary support but comes under the finance ministry’s oversight as far as spending and earnings are concerned.
Once the overall funds are allocated, railways will then segregate them for various purposes with sources indicating that the model will be similar to the one for the postal department.