The Ministry of Railways has suspended all new/umbrella works included in the ‘Pink Book’ in 2020-21 in view of the unprecedented fall in revenue caused by the COVID-19 pandemic that brought passenger train operations to a grinding halt.
Modernisation, upgradation of passenger amenities, station development and other non-safety work to the tune of a few thousand crores have been placed in abeyance, sources in the Railways said on Wednesday.
In a note to the General Managers of Zonal Railways, Production Units and other major establishments, the Railway Board said works which impact the safe running of trains and considered “essential and inescapable” may be considered for execution. Moreover, the essentiality of such works would be examined by top officials of the Board for clearance.
Works that were approved last year (2019-20) but made insignificant physical progress would also be frozen until further orders, except those which were essentially required for the safe operation of trains. The Railways received a budgetary allocation of ₹70,000 crore this year and an outlay for capital expenditure amounting to ₹1.61 lakh crore. Of this, ₹20,000 crore is earmarked for funding critical safety-related works under the Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh (RRSK), the sources said.
On how the suspension of work under the category of new/umbrella works would impact the Railways, a senior railway official said a variety of works relating to the enhancement of passenger amenities, modernisation of yards/workshops/production units, all non-safety construction work, etc., would be put on hold now.
“This is an unprecedented blanket ban on non-safety works caused by the serious financial crisis. Passenger earnings have hit an all time low in the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown across the country. While the cumulative revenue for the period April 1-July 10 in the fiscal 2019-20 was ₹15,054.76 crore, the same in 2020-21 drastically dropped to -452.52 crore. The approximate number of passengers fell from 1,031.49 million to -8.57 million during the same period,” the official said, quoting data released by the Directorate of Statistics & Economics.
Though there is no specific instruction on suspending major projects like electrification and broad gauge conversion/doubling projects, a circular from the Financial Commissioner (Railways), pointing to the 58% drop in traffic earnings till the end of May, and imposing spending limits on Ordinary Working Expenses, Depreciation Reserve Fund, Development Fund and the Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh, only points to severe reduction on spending and more focus on earning, the official added.
Even otherwise, construction activities such as broad gauge conversion/doubling, laying of new lines, construction/repair of major bridges, station development under Private Public Partnership (PPP) model, etc., would not be possible with physical distancing, travel restrictions and other safety guidelines enforced to control the spread of the novel coronavirus, another Railways official said.