Finances of the Railways were presented along with the Union Budget on February 1, 2018 (the Railways Budget was merged with the Union Budget last year). In the current Budget Session, Lok Sabha is scheduled to discuss the allocation to the Ministry of Railways. In light of this, we discuss Railways’ finances, and issues that the transporter has been facing with regard to financing.
What are the different sources of revenue for Railways?
Indian Railways has three primary sources of revenue: (i) its own internal resources (revenue from freight and passenger traffic, leasing of railway land, etc.), (ii) budgetary support from the central government, and (iii) extra budgetary resources (such as market borrowings, institutional financing).
Railways’ internal revenue for 2018-19 is estimated at Rs 2,01,090 crore which is 7% higher than the revised estimates of 2017-18. Majority of this revenue comes from traffic (both freight and passenger), and is estimated at Rs 2,00,840 crore. In the last few years, Railways has been struggling to run its transportation business, and generate its own revenue. The growth rate of Railways’ earnings from its core business of running freight and passenger trains has been declining. This is due to a decline in the growth of both freight and passenger traffic (see Figure 1). Railways is also slowly losing traffic share to other modes of transport such as roads and airlines. The share of Railways in total freight traffic has declined from 89% in 1950-51 to 30% in 2011-12.
The Committee on Restructuring Railways (2015) had observed that raising revenue for Railways is a challenge because: (i) investment is made in projects that do not have traffic and hence do not generate revenue, (ii) the efficiency improvements do not result in increasing revenue, and (iii) delays in projects results in cost escalation, which makes it difficult to recover costs. Railways also provides passenger fares that are heavily subsidised, which results in the passenger business facing losses of around Rs 33,000 crore in a year (in 2014-15). Passenger fares are also cross-subsidised by charging higher rates for freight. The consequence is that freight rates have been increasing which has resulted in freight traffic moving towards roads.
Figure 2 shows the trends in capital outlay over the last decade. A decline in internal revenue generation has meant that Railways funds its capital expenditure through budgetary support from the central government and external borrowings. While the support from central government has mostly remained consistent, Railways’ borrowings have been increasing. Various committees have noted that an increased reliance on borrowings will further exacerbate the financial situation of Railways.
The total proposed capital outlay (or capital expenditure) for 2018-19 is Rs 1,48,528 crore which is a 24% increase from the 2017-18 revised estimates (Rs 1,20,000 crore). Majority of this capital expenditure will be financed through borrowings (55%), followed by the budgetary support from the central government (37%). Railways will fund only 8% of its capital expenditure from its own internal resources.
How can Railways raise more money?
The Committee on Restructuring Railways had suggested that Railways can raise more revenue through private participation in the following ways: (i) service and management contracts, (ii) leasing to and from the private sector, (iii) joint ventures, and (iv) private ownership. However, private participation in Railways has been muted as compared to other sectors such as roads, and airports.
One of the key reasons for the failure of private participation in Railways is that policy making, the regulatory function, and operations are all vested within the same organisation, that is, the Ministry of Railways. Railways’ monopoly also discourages private sector entry into the market. The Committee on Restructuring Railways had recommended that the three roles must be separated from each other. It had also recommended setting up an independent regulator for the sector. The regulator will monitor whether tariffs are market determined and competitive.
Where does Railways spend its money?
The total expenditure for 2018-19 is projected at Rs 1,88,100 crore, which is 4% higher than 2017-18. Staff wages and pension together comprise more than half of the Railways’ expenditure. For 2018-19, the expenditure on staff is estimated at Rs 76,452 crore. Allocation to the Pension Fund is estimated at Rs 47,600 crore. These constitute about 66% of the Railways’ expenditure in 2018-19.
Railways’ primary expenditure, which is towards the payment of salaries and pension, has been gradually increasing (with a jump of around 15% each year in 2016-17 and 2017-18 due to implementation of the Seventh Pay Commission recommendations). Further, the pension bill is expected to increase further in the years to come, as about 40% of the Railways staff was above the age of 50 years in 2016-17.
The Committee on Restructuring Railways (2015) had observed that the expenditure on staff is extremely high and unmanageable. This expense is not under the control of Railways and keeps increasing with each Pay Commission revision. It has also been observed that employee costs (including pensions) is one of the key components that reduces Railways’ ability to generate surplus, and allocate resources towards operations.
What is the allocation towards depreciation of assets?
Railways maintains a Depreciation Reserve Fund (DRF) to finance the costs of new assets replacing the old ones. In 2018-19, appropriation to the DRF is estimated at Rs 500 crore, 90% lower than 2017-18 (Rs 5,000 crore). In the last few years, appropriation to the DRF has decreased significantly from Rs 7,775 crore in 2014-15 to Rs 5,000 crore last year. Provisioning Rs 500 crore towards depreciation might be an extremely small amount considering the scale of infrastructure managed by the Indian Railways, and the requirement to replace old assets to ensure safety.
The Standing Committee on Railways (2015) had observed that appropriation to the DRF is the residual amount after appropriation to the Pension Fund, instead of the actual requirement for maintenance of assets. Under-provisioning for the DRF has also been observed as one of the reasons behind the decline in track renewals, and procurement of wagons and coaches.
Is there any provision towards safety?
Last year, the Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh was created to provide for passenger safety. It was to have a corpus of one lakh crore rupees over a period of five years (Rs 20,000 crore per year). The central government was to provide a seed amount of Rs 1,000 crore, and the remaining amount would be raised by the Railways from their own revenues or other sources.
As per the revised estimates of 2017-18, no money was allocated towards this fund. In 2018-19, Rs 5,000 crore has been allocated for it. With the Railways struggling to meet its expenditure and declining internal revenues, it is unclear how Railways will fund the remaining amount of Rs 95,000 crore for the Rail Sanraksha Kosh.
What happened to the dividend that was waived off last year?
Railways used to pay a return on the budgetary support it received from the government every year, known as dividend. The rate of this dividend was about 5% in 2015-16. From 2016-17, the requirement of paying dividend was waived off. The last dividend amount paid was Rs 8,722 crore in 2015-16.
The Standing Committee on Railways (2017) had noted that part of the benefit from dividend is being utilised to meet the shortfall in the traffic earnings of Railways. This defeats the purpose of removing the dividend liabilities since they are not being utilised in creating assets or increasing the net revenue of Railways.
The Uttarakhand Assembly concluded a two-day session on November 30, 2022. The session was scheduled to be held over five days. In this post we look at the legislative business that was carried out in the Assembly, and the state of state legislatures.
13 Bills were introduced and passed within two days
As per the Session Agenda, a total of 19 Bills were listed for introduction in the span of two days. 13 of these were listed to be discussed and passed on the second day. These included the Uttarakhand Protection of Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022, University of Petroleum and Energy Studies (Amendment), Bill, 2022, and the Uttarakhand Anti-Littering and Anti-Spitting (Amendment) Bill, 2022.
The Assembly had proposed to discuss and pass each Bill (barring two) within five minutes (see Figure 1). Two Bills were allocated 20 minutes each for discussion and passing - the Haridwar Universities Bill, 2022, and the Public Service (Horizontal Reservation for Women) Bill, 2022. As per news reports, the Assembly passed all 13 Bills within these two days (this excludes the Appropriation Bills). This raises the question on the amount of scrutiny that these Bills were subject to, and the quality of such laws when the legislature intends to pass them within mere minutes.
Figure 1: Excerpt of Uttarakhand Assembly's November 2022 Session Agenda
Law making requires deliberation, scrutiny
Our law-making institutions have several tools at their disposal to ensure that before a law is passed, it has been examined thoroughly on various aspects such as constitutionality, clarity, financial and technical capacity of the state to implement provisions, among others. The Ministry/Department piloting a Bill could share a draft of the Bill for public feedback (pre-legislative scrutiny). While Bills get introduced, members may raise issues on constitutionality of the proposed law. Once introduced, Bills could be sent to legislative committees for greater scrutiny. This allows legislators to deliberate upon individual provisions in depth, understand if there may be constitutional challenges or other issues with any provision. This also allows experts and affected stakeholders to weigh in on the provisions, highlight issues, and help strengthen the law.
However, when Bills are introduced and passed within mere minutes, it barely gives legislators the time to go through the provisions and mull over implications, issues, or ways to improve the law for affected parties. It also raises the question of what the intention of the legislature is when passing laws in a hurry without any discussion. Often, such poorly thought laws are also challenged in Courts.
For instance, the Uttarakhand Assembly passed the Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022 in this session (five minutes had been allocated for the discussion and passing of the Bill). The 2022 Bill amends the 2018 Act which prohibits forceful religious conversions, and provides that conversion through allurement or marriage will be unlawful. The Bill has provisions such as requiring an additional notice to be sent to the District Magistrate (DM) for a conversion, and that reconversion to one’s immediate previous religion will not be considered a conversion. Some of these provisions seem similar to other laws that were passed by states and have been struck down by or have been challenged in Courts. For example, the Madhya Pradesh High Court while examining the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2021 noted that providing a notice to the DM for a conversion of religion violates the right to privacy as the right includes the right to remain silent. It extends that understanding to the right to decide on one’s faith. The Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2006 exempted people who reconvert to their original religion from giving a public notice of such conversion. The Himachal Pradesh High Court had struck down this provision as discriminatory and violative of the right to equality. The Court also noted that the right to change one’s belief cannot be taken away for maintaining public order.
Uttarakhand MLAs may not have had an opportunity to think about how issues flagged by Courts may be addressed in a law that regulates religious conversions.
Most other state Assemblies also pass Bills without adequate scrutiny
In 2021 44% states passed Bills on the day it was introduced or on the next day. Between January 2018 and September 2022, the Gujarat Assembly introduced 92 Bills (excluding Appropriation Bills). 91 of these were passed in the same day as their introduction. In the 2022 Monsoon Session, the Goa Assembly passed 28 Bills in the span of two days. This is in addition to discussion and voting on budgetary allocation to various government departments.
Figure 2: Time taken by state legislatures to pass Bills in 2021
Note: The chart above does not include Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. A Bill is considered passed within a day if it was passed on the day of introduction or on the next day. For states with bicameral legislatures, bills have to be passed in both Houses. This has been taken into account in the above chart for five states having Legislative Councils, except Bihar (information was not available for Council).
Sources: Assembly websites, E-Gazette of various states and Right to Information requests; PRS.
Occasionally, the time actually spent deliberating upon a Bill is lesser than the allocated time. This may be due to disruptions in the House. The Himachal Pradesh Assembly provides data on the time actually spent discussing Bills. For example, in the August 2022 Session, it spent an average of 12 minutes to discuss and pass 10 Bills. However, the Uttarakhand Assembly allocated only five minutes to discuss each Bill in its November 2022 Session. This indicates the lack of intent of certain state legislatures to improve their functioning.
In the case of Parliament, a significant portion of scrutiny is also carried out by the Department Related Standing Committees, even when Parliament is not in session. In the 14th Lok Sabha (LS), 60% of the Bills introduced were sent to Committees for detailed examination, and in the 15th LS, 71% were sent. These figures have reduced recently – in the 16th LS 27% of the Bills were sent to Committees, and so far in the 17th LS, 13% have been sent. However, across states, sending Bills to Committees for detailed examination is often the exception than the norm. In 2021, less than 10% of the Bills were sent to Committees. None of the Bills passed by the Uttarakhand Assembly had been examined by a committee. States that are an exception here include Kerala which has 14 subject Committees, and Bills are regularly sent to these for examination. However, these Committees are headed by their respective Ministers, which reduces the scope of independent scrutiny that may be undertaken.