The general discussion on the Railway Budget concluded in Parliament this week. During the discussion, several MPs made a reference to two important documents tabled by the Railway Minister in 2009 - the ‘White Paper' on Indian Railways and the 2020 Vision document. The documents provide good insight into the operational and financial performance of Railways over the previous five years. They also throw light on the challenges that confront the Railways today. It emerges that Railways has relied heavily on increasing utilization of existing assets to manage the increase in demand. The system is otherwise severely constrained by lack of adequate capacity. Scenario so far (2004-09) Growth in traffic and earnings Rail transport demand is linked to the growth in GDP. As a result, the two main businesses of Railways – Passenger and Freight – have both seen significant increases in traffic in recent years. Passenger traffic has grown at an average rate of 10% each year. Earnings have increased at a slightly higher pace, implying that most passengers have been spared increases in fare. Standalone, passenger operations have continued to be loss making. Freight traffic has grown too, but at a lower rate of about 7% and unlike the passenger segment, freight fares have increased significantly over these years. Freight forms the backbone of Railways' revenues. Even today, it continues to account for almost two-thirds of total earnings. However, Railways’ market share in freight has decreased steadily over the past few decades - it dropped from 90% in 1950-51 to less than 30% in 2007-08. The main reasons for this decline are high pricing (to subsidize passenger travel) and lack of sufficient infrastructure. Railways are unable to provide time-tabled freight services. In addition, there are no multi-modal logistics parks that could have provided door-to-door cargo services. Infrastructure constraints Since 1950-51, route-kms have increased by just 18% and track-kms by 41%, even though freight and passenger output has gone up almost 12 times. Specific issues include:

  • Common corridor for both freight and passenger traffic - With freight trains on the same corridor, operating fast passenger trains becomes extremely difficult.
  • Concentration of traffic - More than half the total traffic moves on the golden quadrilateral and its diagonals; large parts of these sections are now already saturated.
  • Limited capacity for production of rolling stock, particularly locomotives and EMUs.

The above constraints require investment in network and capacity augmentation, including dedicated freight corridors. Hence, a substantial increase in funding is necessary. The Vision 2020 document planned to deploy Rs 14 lakh crore in the next 10 years towards development of rail infrastructure. Recent trends (as presented in the Budget 2011) This year's budget presented the actual financial performance in 2009-10, the provisional performance in 2010-11 and the targets for 2011-12 (Details can be accessed here). It also highlighted achievements on other metrics, including growth in traffic and augmentation of infrastructure (See 'Status of some key projects proposed in 2010-11'). On financials, 2009-10 was a bad year for Railways. Figures show a high Operating Ratio of 95.3%. Operating Ratio is a metric that compares operating expenses to revenues. A higher ratio indicates lower ability to generate surplus. The 2009-10 Operating Ratio is the highest since 2002. According to the Railways Minister, this can be partly attributed to higher payout in salaries and pension due to implementation of Sixth Pay Commission recommendations. Growth in passenger traffic remained high in 2010-11, at 11%. However, growth in freight traffic slowed down to 2%. Again, passenger fares remained untouched, but freight fares were increased. Railways, in 2011-12, targets an increase of 8% in both passenger and freight traffic. Financials are expected to improve. An amount of Rs. 57,630 crore has been budgeted as net plan outlay for investment in infrastructure. Last year, this figure was Rs 41,426 crore. In her opening remarks during the Budget speech in Parliament, the Minister commented that Railways forms an important backbone of any country. Lets hope it is headed in the right direction!

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.