Earlier today, the Union Cabinet announced the merger of the Railways Budget with the Union Budget.  All proposals under the Railways Budget will now be a part of the Union Budget.  However, to ensure detailed scrutiny, the Ministry’s expenditure will be discussed in Parliament.  Further, Railways will continue to maintain its autonomy and financial decision making powers.  In light of this, this post discusses some of the ways in which Railways is financed, and issues it faces with regard to financing. Separation of Railways Budget and its financial implications The Railways Budget was separated from the Union Budget in 1924.  While the Union Budget looks at the overall revenue and expenditure of the central government, the Railways Budget looks at the revenue and expenditure of the Ministry of Railways.  At that time, the proportion of Railways Budget was much higher as compared to the Union Budget.  The separation of the Budgets was done to ensure that the central government receives an assured contribution from the Railways revenues.  However, in the last few years, Railways’ finances have deteriorated and it has been struggling to generate enough surplus to invest in improving its infrastructure. Indian Railways is primarily financed through budgetary support from the central government, its own internal resources (freight and passenger revenue, leasing of railway land, etc.), and external resources (market borrowings, public private partnerships, joint ventures, or market financing). Every year, all ministries, except Railways, get support from the central government based on their estimated revenue and expenditure for the year.  The Railways Ministry is provided with a gross budgetary support from the central government in order to expand its network.  However, unlike other Ministries, Railways pays a return on this investment every year, known as dividend.  The rate of this dividend is currently at around 5%, and also includes the interest on government budgetary support received in the previous years. Various Committees have observed that the system of receiving support from the government and then paying back dividend is counter-productive.  It was recommended that the practice of paying dividend can be avoided until the financial health of Railways improves.  In the announcement made today, the requirement to pay dividend to the central government has been removed.  This would save the Ministry from the liability of paying around Rs 9,700 crore as dividend to the central government every year.  However, Railways will continue to get gross budgetary support from the central government. Declining internal revenue In addition to its core business of providing transportation, Railways also has several social obligations such as: (i) providing certain passenger and coaching services at below cost fares, (ii) running uneconomic branch lines (connectivity to remote areas), and (iii) granting concessions to various categories of people (like senior citizens, children, etc.).  All these add up to about Rs 30,000 crore.  Other inelastic expenses of Railways include pension charges, fuel expenses, lease payments, etc.  Such expenses do not leave any financial room for the Railways to make any infrastructure investments. Railways1 In the last few years, Railways has been struggling due to a decline in its revenue from passenger and freight traffic.  In addition, the support from the central government has broadly remained constant. In 2015-16, the gross budgetary support and internal revenue saw a decline, while there was some increase in the extra budgetary resources (shown in Figure 1).   Railways’ internal revenue primarily comes from freight traffic (about 65%), followed by passenger traffic (about 25%).  About one-third of the passenger revenue comes from first class passenger traffic and the remaining two-third comes from second class passenger traffic.  In 2015-16, Railways passenger traffic decreased by 4% and total passenger revenue decreased by 10% from the budget estimates.  While revenue from second class saw a decrease of 13%, revenue from first class traffic decreased by 3%.  In the last few years, Railways’ internal sources have been declining, primarily due to a decline in both passenger as well as freight traffic. Freight traffic Railways2The share of Railways in total freight traffic has declined from 89% to 30% over the last 60 years, with most of the share moving towards roads (see Figure 2).  With regard to freight traffic, Railways generates most of its revenue from the transportation of coal (about 44%), followed by cement (8%), iron ore (7%), and food-grains (7%).  In 2015-16, freight traffic decreased by 10%, and freight earnings reduced by 5% from the budget estimates. The Railways Budget for 2016-17 estimates an increase of 12% in passenger revenue and a 0.26% increase in passenger traffic.  Achieving a 12% increase in revenue without a corresponding increase in traffic will require an increase in fares. Flexi fares and passenger traffic A few days ago, the Ministry of Railways introduced a flexi-fare system for certain categories of trains.  Under this system, the base fare for Rajdhani, Duronto and Shatabdi trains will increase by 10% with every 10% of berths sold, subject to a ceiling of up to 1.5 times the base fare.  While this could also be a way for Railways to improve its revenue, it has raised concerns about train fares becoming more expensive.  Note that the flexi-fare system will apply only to first class passenger traffic, which contributes to about 8% of the total Railways revenue.  It remains to be seen if the new system increases Railways revenue, or further decreases passenger traffic (people choosing other modes of travel, such as airways, if fares increase significantly). While the Railways is trying to improve revenue by raising fares, this may increase the financial burden on passengers.  In the past, various Parliamentary Committees have observed that the investment planning in Railways from the government’s side is politically driven rather than need driven.  This has resulted in the extension of uneconomic, un-remunerative, yet socially desirable projects in every budget.  It has been recommended that projects based on social and commercial considerations must be categorised separately in the Railways accounts, and funding for the former must come from the central or state governments.  It has also been recommended that Railways should bring in more accuracy in determining its public service obligations. The decision to merge the Railways Budget with the Union Budget seems to be on the lines of several of these recommendations.  However, it remains to be seen whether merging the Railway Budget with the Union Budget will  improve the transporter’s finances or if it would require bringing in more reforms.



On March 14, 2022 Rajya Sabha discussed the working of the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER).  During the discussion, several issues around budgetary allocation, implementation of schemes and connectivity with the North Eastern Region were discussed.  The Ministry of DoNER is responsible for matters relating to the planning, execution and monitoring of development schemes and projects in the North Eastern Region.  In this blog post, we analyse the 2022-23 budgetary allocations for the Ministry and discuss related issues.  

A new scheme named PM-DevINE announced to boost infrastructure and social development

In 2022-23, the Ministry has seen a 5% increase in allocation from the revised estimates of 2021-22.  The Ministry has been allocated Rs 2,800 crore which will be used for various development schemes, such as the North East Special Infrastructure Development Scheme and North East Road Sector Development Scheme.  A scheme-wise break-up of the budget allocation for the Ministry is given below in Table 1.  

One of the key highlights of the Finance Minister’s Budget Speech was the announcement of a new scheme named the Prime Minister’s Development Initiative for North East (PM-DevINE).  It will be implemented through the North East Council (nodal agency for the economic and social development of the North Eastern Region).  PM-DevINE will fund infrastructure and social development projects in areas such as road connectivity, health, and agriculture.  The scheme will not replace or subsume existing central sector or centrally sponsored schemes.  The Scheme will be given an initial allocation of Rs 1,500 crore.

Table 1: Break-up of allocation to the Ministry of DoNER (in Rs crore)

Major Heads

2020-21 Actuals

2021-22 BE

2021-22 RE

2022-23 BE

% change from 2021-22 RE to 2022-23 BE

North East Special Infrastructure Development Scheme






Schemes of North East Council






North East Road Sector Development Scheme






Central pool of resources for North East and Sikkim


































Note: BE – Budget Estimate; RE – Revised Estimate; Schemes for North East Council includes Special Development Projects.

Sources: Demand No. 23 of Union Budget Documents 2022-23; PRS. 

Allocation towards capital outlay less than demand

The Standing Committee on Home Affairs (2022) noted that the amount allocated at the budget stage in 2022-23 (Rs 660 crore) was 17% less than the demand by the Ministry (Rs 794 crore).  Capital expenditure includes capital outlay which leads to the creation of assets such as schools, hospitals, and roads and bridges.  The Committee observed that this may severely affect the implementation of several projects and schemes that require capital outlay.  It recommended the Ministry to take up this matter with the Finance Ministry and demand additional assistance at the revised stage of the 2022-23 financial year.

Underutilisation of funds over the years

Since 2011-12 (barring 2016-17), the Ministry has not been able to utilise the funds allocated to it at the budgeted stage (See Figure 1).  For instance, in 2020-21, fund utilisation in case of the North East Road Sector Development Scheme was 52%, whereas only 34% of funds were utilised under the North East Special Infrastructure Development Scheme (for infrastructure projects relating to water supply, power, connectivity, social infrastructure).  Key reasons for underspending highlighted by the Ministry include late receipt of project proposals and non-receipt of utilisation certificates from state governments.

Figure 1: Underutilisation of funds by the Ministry since 2011-12

 Note: Revised Estimate has been used as the Actual Expenditure for 2021-22.
 Sources: Union Budget Documents (2011-12 to 2022-23); PRS

Delay in project completion

The Ministry implements several schemes for infrastructural projects such as roads and bridges.  The progress of the certain schemes has been inadequate.   The Standing Committee (2022) observed that the physical progress of many road sector projects under the North East Road Sector Development Scheme is either at zero or in single digit percent in spite of release of the amount for the project.  Similarly, projects under the Karbi Anglong Autonomous Territorial Council (autonomous district council in Assam) and Social and Infrastructure Development Fund (construction of roads, bridges, and construction of schools and water supply projects in the North Eastern Region) have seen inadequate progress.

Need to address declining forest cover

The Standing Committee (2021) has also recommended the Ministry of DoNER to work towards preserving forest cover.  The Committee took note of the declining forest cover in the North East India.  As per the India State of Forest Report (2021), states showing major loss of forest cover from 2019 to 2021 are: (i) Arunachal Pradesh (loss of 257 sq km of forest cover), (ii) Manipur (249 sq km), (iii) Nagaland (235 sq km), (iv) Mizoram (186 sq km), and (v) Meghalaya (73 sq km).  The loss of forest cover may be attributed to shifting cultivation, cutting down of trees, natural calamities, anthropogenic (environmental pollution) pressure, and developmental activities.  The Committee recommended that various measures to protect the forest and environment must be given priority and should implemented within the stipulated timeline.  It also suggested the Ministry to: (i) carry out regular plantation drives to increase forest cover/density, and (ii) accord priority towards the ultimate goal of preserving and protecting the forests under various centrally sponsored initiatives.

Key issues raised by Members during discussion in Rajya Sabha

The discussion on the working of the Ministry of DoNER took place in Rajya Sabha on March 14, 2022.  One of the issues highlighted by members was about the Ministry not having its own line Department.  This leads to the Ministry being dependent on the administrative strength of the states for implementation of projects.  Another issue highlighted by several members was the lack of connectivity of the region through railways and road networks which hampers the economic growth of region.  The DoNER Minister in his response to the House assured the members that the central government is making continuous efforts towards improving connectivity to the North East region through roads, railways, waterways, and telecommunication.         

Allocation by Union Ministries to the North East 

Union Ministries allocate 10% of their budget allocation for the North East (See Figure 2 for fund allocation and utilisation).  The Ministry of DoNER is the nodal Ministry that monitors and keeps track of the allocation done by various Ministries.  In 2022-23, Rs 76,040 crore has been allocated by all the Ministries for the North Eastern region.  The allocation has increased by 11% from the revised estimate of 2021-22 (Rs 68,440 crore).   In 2019-20 and 2021-21 the actual expenditure towards North Eastern areas was lower than budget estimates by 18% and 19% respectively.  

Figure 2: Budgetary allocation by all Union Ministries for the North East (amount in Rs crore)


Source: Report No. 239: Demand for Grants (2022-23) of Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region, Standing Committee on Home Affairs; PRS.