The Union Budget 2021-22, which will be presented by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on February 1, may provide more information about plans for a wider bullet train network across the country.
Earlier in December last year, the Railway Ministry had issued a long-term strategic ‘National Rail Plan 2024’ meant for development of infrastructural capacity and increase modal share of the Railways.
It focused on development of high-speed railway infrastructure in the country. The ministry had said it is aiming to finalise the final plan by January 2021.
The draft plan proposed an 8,000-kilometre-long high-speed rail network by 2051. This would include new bullet train corridors such as Varanasi-Patna, Amritsar-Jammu and Patna-Guwahati among others.
Currently, India has just one bullet train project under construction which links Mumbai and Ahmedabad.
However, the project is facing land acquisition issues, especially in Maharashtra. Thus, the bullet train may initially be made available only in Gujarat.
Other corridors under consideration are Delhi-Varanasi via Ayodhya, Hyderabad-Bangalore and Mumbai-Nagpur.
During the presentation of the last Union Budget, Finance Minister had said that the Centre will be actively pursuing the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project.
Also, the country’s railways infrastructure is set for a massive revamp as it is likely to see its highest ever capital expenditure (capex) for 2021-22 in the upcoming Budget 2021. During the current financial year, the capex by the Indian Railways was pegged at Rs 161,042 crore, which is likely to grow in double-digits in 2021-22, if the finance ministry meets the Railway Board’s expectation.
The capital expenditure in Railways was vastly scaled up after 2014 (almost double the previous level) to address the accumulated backlog of infrastructure deficiency in the Railways, according to the government. As per the plan lined up by the Centre under the National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP), the Railways sector is expected to see investment to the tune of Rs 11.43 lakh crore till 2024-25. Based on this roadmap, the sector was expected to see Rs 3.08 lakh crore in Fiscal Year 2022. Total capital expenditure between 2014-20 was Rs 6 lakh crore, which was more than double of total expenditure during 2009-14.
The railways is expected to raise its market share in overall freight, from around 30 per cent now to 45 per cent in 2030.
Currently, the Railways has taken up 498 Railway projects of 49,069 kilometre (km) length, costing Rs 6.75 lakh crore, which are in different stages of planning, sanction and execution. Out of this, 58 are considered as supercritical and 68 as critical projects. Besides, to increase the carrying capacity of passengers and ensure meeting the needs of the freight traffic, 247 doublings, 189 new lines, 522 traffic facilities and 55 gauge conversion works are sanctioned.
Interestingly, the share of extra-budgetary resources had increased over the years. The share of capex contributed by the Indian Railway Finance Corporation (IRFC) increased from 19 per cent of the total capex in 2014-15 to 48 per cent in 2019-20 and 70 per cent in 2020-21. Out of the total capex requirement of Rs 1.61 lakh crore for the year, IRFC is commissioned to lend Rs 1,13,567 crore.