Saturday, February 28, 2015

6.9-magnitude quake strikes off Indonesia

A magnitude 6.9 earthquake struck 182km northeast of Ende, Indonesia at 1345 GMT on Friday, Reuters reported. The depth was 562km, according to the US Geological Survey. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said there was no threat of a tsunami.

Boris Nemtsov the wonder man

Nemtsov was born in the southern Russian city of Sochi into the family of a construction official and a pediatrician on October 9, 1959. His family moved to the city of Gorky (now renamed Nizhniy Novgorod) while Nemtsov was still a boy.
He studied physics at a Gorky university under his maternal uncle Vilen Eidman, and later worked as a post-graduate student. Nemtsov published more than 60 scientific papers on quantum physics, thermodynamics and acoustics, with academic colleagues describing him as a gifted scientist.

Russian President Boris Yeltsin (second right), Chinese Premier Jiang Zemin (right) and First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov (second left) after inking the Russian-Chinese statement on Yeltsin's visit to China, 1997 (RIA Novosti / Vladimir Rodionov)
Russian President Boris Yeltsin (second right), Chinese Premier Jiang Zemin (right) and First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov (second left) after inking the Russian-Chinese statement on Yeltsin's visit to China, 1997 (RIA Novosti / Vladimir Rodionov)
In the last years of the Soviet Union, Nemtsov pursued a political career as an elected member of parliament. During the early 1990s, he was appointed by President Boris Yeltsin as the governor of Nizhniy Novgorod region. He won the first-ever election as the region's head in 1995.
During his term, he championed sweeping liberalization, including a pioneering land reform that allowed sale of land in the region. He is also credited for creating unprecedentedly free environment for the media in the region, although critics said it was part of his populist policies and that in the actual governing Nemtsov showed authoritarian trends.

Boris Nemtsov, one of the leaders of the Union of Right Forces [SPS] and the author of the book "Confessions Of A Rebel," and his son Anton, 2007 (RIA Novosti / Mikhail Fomichev)
Boris Nemtsov, one of the leaders of the Union of Right Forces [SPS] and the author of the book "Confessions Of A Rebel," and his son Anton, 2007 (RIA Novosti / Mikhail Fomichev)
In 1997, Nemtsov's political career brought him to Moscow, where he served as Energy Minister and later Deputy Prime Minister of Russia. At the time Russia was undergoing a period of political and economic turbulence, with five cabinet reshuffles in a period of just two years. Nemtsov served in two of them, but eventually resigned in 1998.
At the time of his appointment, he was considered a popular politician with a chance of winning the presidency one day. His public image however suffered from association with the government of Sergey Kirienko, which led Russia into the default of 1998.
Nemtsov was also marred by a scandal involving his donor and protegee, Boris Brevnov, who received a management position in Russian energy monopolist RAO UES. He was later accused by the financial watchdog of wasting the indebted company's money on jet flights for his family and other extravagant spending.

Boris Nemtsov, Irina Khamada, Sergey Stepashin, 1999 (RIA Novosti / Vladimir Fedorenko)
Boris Nemtsov, Irina Khamada, Sergey Stepashin, 1999 (RIA Novosti / Vladimir Fedorenko)
After leaving the government Nemtsov focused on party-building. In 1999 he co-founded the Union of Right Forces (SPS), a rightist political coalition, along with Anatoly Chubais and Irina Khakamada. In the parliamentary election that year, SPS scored 8.52 percent of votes and formed an opposition faction. It was the only electoral success of SPS at the national level, with the bloc failing to pass the 5 percent threshold necessary to win parliamentary seats in 2003 and 2007. SPS was disbanded in 2008.
In November 1999, Nemtsov joined other Russian liberals in supporting Vladimir Putin for the presidency, calling him the most worthy candidate for the position. Later he said he regretted that decision and that he didn't vote for Putin at the 2000 presidential election.

Former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin (left in first row), former First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais (left in second row) and former First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov (right in first row) in the government box at a theater, 1997 (RIA Novosti / Vladimir Fedorenko)
Former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin (left in first row), former First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais (left in second row) and former First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov (right in first row) in the government box at a theater, 1997 (RIA Novosti / Vladimir Fedorenko)
Arguably the most controversial episode of Nemtsov's political career came in October 2002 during the terrorist attack at a Moscow theater. His name was on the list of people whom the hostage-takers agreed to talk to directly. His fellow SPS politician, Irina Khakamada, went into the besieged theater, but Nemtsov “vanished,” according to Iosif Kobzon, another negotiator. Years later the politician claimed that he received a direct order from Putin not to go.
In recent years, Nemtsov remained a vocal critic of Putin’s leadership, publishing since 2008 no less than four searing reports on what he called Putin’s failures and misdeeds as a public official. Another report focused on the Sochi Olympic Games, its cost and alleged corruption in the project.
He also penned three autobiographical books, with the best-known called “A rebel's confession.”

RIA Novosti / Dmitry Donskoi
RIA Novosti / Dmitry Donskoi
While Nemtsov himself blamed his dwindling public support on persecution from the Russian government, some analysts say this was an overly simplistic view. His name is tied in the eyes of many Russians with the painful liberal reforms of the 1990s and the social injustices they brought about. Many of his public statements are at odds with the general Russian public, the latest being his criticism of Crimea's move to reunite with Russia.
He was also reportedly a difficult political ally, having an uncompromising and somewhat prima donna-like attitude to fellow opposition leaders and activists.

Nizhny Novgorod Governor Boris Nemtsov with his wife and daughter, 1994 (RIA Novosti / Yuriy Somov)
Nizhny Novgorod Governor Boris Nemtsov with his wife and daughter, 1994 (RIA Novosti / Yuriy Somov)
Nemtsov's latest electoral efforts were largely unsuccessful. He ran mayor of Sochi in 2013, just as the city was preparing to host the Olympic Games, and scored 13.6 percent of the popular vote, losing the race. In the same year, he became the sole member of the regional parliament of the Yaroslavl Region from his latest political party, RPR-PARNAS.
Nemtsov allegedly struggled with severe depression during the last few months of his life, according to Meduza, a Russian news website. There are reports that he didn’t feel like being a member of a regional parliament matched his skill set, while at the same time understanding that he couldn’t regain prominence on a national level.

Chairman of the Russian Federation Council of Ministers Viktor Chernomyrdin (first left) and Nizhny Novgorod Governor Boris Nemtsov (second left) meet at the airport, 1994 (RIA Novosti / Alexander Makarov)
Chairman of the Russian Federation Council of Ministers Viktor Chernomyrdin (first left) and Nizhny Novgorod Governor Boris Nemtsov (second left) meet at the airport, 1994 (RIA Novosti / Alexander Makarov)
One of his latest ventures was the organization of the Vesna (“Spring”) opposition rally planned for March 1 in Moscow. Organizers said they canceled the demonstration due to Nemtsov's death and that a mourning march will be held instead in the center of Moscow.
Nemtsov is survived by his estranged wife Raisa, with whom he had a daughter. He had longtime relationships with two other women, who bore him three children.
Inputs from RT News

Friday, February 27, 2015


Statement By Datuk Kamarudin Meranun, AirAsia X Group CEO
27th February 2015

Since taking the helm as Group CEO of AirAsia X earlier this month, the new management team and I have been reviewing all aspects of the business to ensure that we have the best product and services in place for our guests.

During this process, we found an issue with our current refund system, which we had outgrown due to our rapid expansion. The situation was unfortunately been exasperated by the QZ8501 incident as well as the unforeseen delay in the Denpasar – Melbourne route approval, which has caused a backlog in the refund process.

We are now in the process of migrating our refund process to our global shared services office in Penang. Once the migration is completed on 16 March, our centralized refund team will be able to process the refund requests in less than 45 business days (excluding processing time from customers’ merchant banks).

We are also taking additional measures to improve productivity and to add convenience and comfort to our guests’ travel experience. To start, we have set up a task force led by our newly appointed Group Head of Corporate Quality, Customer Support & Innovation, Mimi Phua.

Mimi will be responsible for spearheading a series of improvements and modifications including the development of a new platform that will enable all of our guests to track their refunds both online and on mobile devises.  The platform is currently scheduled to launch in July of this year.

We sincerely apologize for the inconveniences caused to our valued guests. As a token of our appreciation for their continued patience, we will be offering a $50 AUD e-gift voucher to all guests that have yet to receive their refunds.  The e-gift vouchers will be valid for use towards any AirAsia X (D7, XT or XJ) flights. 

Please stay tuned for updates on our innovations as we continue to strive to deliver only the best. For any inquiries on outstanding refunds, guests can email their PNR (booking number) to aaxsupport@airasia.com .

Sincerely,

Kamarudin Meranun
Group CEO, AirAsia X

On world Wildlife day

STAR PLUS honors the spirit of women with their show Anmol Hai Tu- Nayi Soch Ko Salaam”
A unique show that celebrates womanhood and aims to empower the women ~
Mumbai, 26th February 2015Every year on International Women’s Day one witnesses multiple discussions over various issues plaguing Indian women today. Star Plus has explored women through their women centric Nayi Soch shows and captured the emotions of audience and promoted women independence. This year, STAR Plus has attempted to salute the spirit of the women with their new initiative - Anmol Hai Tu - Nayi Soch ko Salaam.

From the progress women have made, to the dreams they have for the future, Star Plus will celebrate and show gratitude to the women who have endured the trials and tribulations of a hard life, risen from the ashes like phoenix, set in motion the wheels of change and breathed life into a movement that has impacted the lives of others. On Sunday, March 8th at 9.00 PM, Star Plus will recognize and honour women who refused to let society defeat their indomitable spirit and through their stories of triumph convey information that will empower many others like them.

Hosted by a lady who best represents today’s strong, powerful and successful achiever – Huma Qureshi, ‘Anmol Hai Tu- Nayi Soch Ko Salaam’ will honour 5 women who have dedicated their lives for a movement that has played a crucial part in the upliftment and betterment of not only women but also society at large.

Huma will be seen interacting with women achievers who dared to bring about a change and through their stories and experiences share information - guidelines, laws & helplines to create awareness and empower women. The show will be interspersed with issue-centric performances creatively presented by well-known artists like Sanjeeda Sheikh, Mouni Roy, Ritwik Dhanjani, Sargun Mehta and Shakti Mohan amongst others.

Watch ‘Anmol Hai Tu- Nayi Soch Ko Salaam’ airing this International Women’s Day, Sunday, 8th March at 9.00 PM only on STAR Plus!
Dear Mr. Sagar

Please see my article written jointly with Geetima Das Krishna titled 'The Myth of Revenue Foregone..' which appeared in Mint newspaper on 26 February.

Your feedback is as always welcome.

Best/warm regards
Rajiv Kumar
The myth of foregone revenue
It is dishonest to say tax giveaways are doled to private firms. States and citizens gain most from exemptions
The issue of tax revenues foregone by the Union government has been raised repeatedly by eminent persons such as Amartya Sen and S. Gurumurthy
and politicians such as Sitaram Yechury. It has become fashionable to raise this issue to castigate the government of the day for handing over vast sums of money to the private sector as tax concessions. Although official data makes it amply clear that the total amount of revenue foregone is made up of a variety of concessions vested interests, either mistakenly or dishonestly, cite the entire amount running into trillions of rupees as tax sops.
Facts belie these assertions. Total revenues foregone have declined over the years as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) (see table). More importantly, official data makes it clear that these estimates include several fiscal incentives that cannot be classed as giveaways. In our understanding, these should not be included in estimates of revenues forgone.
Some examples are in order here. Section 5A (1) of the Central Excise Act, 1944, empowers the Union government to lower tariff rates below levels prescribed in the schedules. These lower excise rates are applicable to mass-consumption goods such as medicines, toothpowder, candles, postcards, sewing needles, kerosene stoves, etc. Revenue loss on account of lower excise duties on these goods, which are essential components in any poor family’s consumption basket, are certainly not tax sops to big private companies.
Another example is that of personal income tax concessions. These are given for encouraging savings and increasing disposable incomes of the lowest rungs of income taxpayers. These amounted to Rs.40,414 crore, or 0.4% of GDP in 2013-14 and were on account of investments in various savings instruments, repayment of housing loan, payment of tuition fees for children (Section 80C of the Income Tax Act, 1961), deduction on health insurance premium (Section 80D), higher basic exemption limits for senior citizens and women. These are welfare enhancing measures and are in no way unwarranted giveaways.
Customs duty concessions are mostly for imported goods that are used as inputs for exports as defined under Section 25(1) of the Customs Act.
This is a standard global practice. This is not revenue foregone but simply a necessary measure for making India’s exports globally competitive.
Custom duties were reduced from their peaks of around 220% in 1991 to 30% in 2002. But it seems that official estimates continue to include the difference from peak bounded rates and actually applied rates in revenue foregone. Can an outcome of major policy decisions that results in the reduction of peak tariff rates be considered as revenue foregone?
There are then the area-based incentives. These amounted to Rs.17,999 crore in 2013-14, or 0.2% of GDP. These are given to hilly and backward areas such as north-eastern states and states enjoying special status, such as Jammu and Kashmir. These concessions are a consequence of a political decision and not due to any demand by the private sector. These concessions are given to improve regional and spatial equity and for expanding employment and economic activity in these backward regions. It is intellectually dishonest to claim these measures as tax sops when they are being used to further a cherished principle of the republic: equity between states.
Before discussing tax concessions for private companies, it should be pointed out that corporate taxes accounted for 34% of total tax revenue and 63% of direct tax revenue in fiscal year 2013-14. Moreover, corporate tax revenue has increased at a compound annual rate of 20% over the last 10 years. This is by far the fastest growing segment of tax revenue. In contrast, the agriculture sector does not pay any tax whatsoever and custom duties and excise duties have increased on average by 15% and 7.7%, respectively, over the same period.
Concessions given to private companies or revenue foregone was Rs.68,720 crore in 2012-13 and not Rs.5.66 trillion as is often claimed. In 2013-14, these are expected to increase to Rs.76,116 crore or 0.7% of the GDP or mere 7% of total tax revenue. Concessions include those given for software technology parks (STPs), special economic zones (SEZs), the power sector, accelerated depreciation for industries established in new industries and hilly regions and weighted deduction for expenditure on scientific research.
Various studies show that SEZs and STPs have significant positive impact on foreign-exchange earnings and employment generation. Thus, they contribute directly to poverty reduction. The net cost-benefit impact of SEZs, despite their tax exempt status (although the minimum alternate tax is illogically applied to units located there) is very positive. China powered its way into global export markets by the massive use of SEZs. So, to argue against these concessions is to deny our companies the opportunity to become globally competitive and increase India’s share in global export markets, which currently is lower than 2%.
Most concessions included in revenue foregone undoubtedly contribute to enhancing public welfare or promoting exports. These should not be included in estimates of revenue forgone. Therefore, the finance ministry would do well to come up with a new methodology for calculating the actual revenue foregone and a new nomenclature for genuinely effective tax incentives.
It is important to deny the ideologues this annual tamaasha of private sector bashing.
Author is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research and Founder Director of Pahle IndiaFoundation. The most recent book is Exploding Aspirations.
  
 



Prabhunovation seeks turnaround in railways

ASHOK B SHARMA

Railway Budget for the current year is novel in many ways. Departing from the usual routine of emphasising on laying of new tracks and raising passenger fares and prescribing slabs for freight rates, this year’s budgetary proposals concentrated more on the strategy for improving passenger service, amenities and safety; capacity expansion; decongestion of heavy haul routes and speeding up of trains; modernisation through extensive use of information technology; deployment of solar and renewable energy and waste management.

The Railway Budget is a part of trilogy of documents tabled in Parliament that includes a White Paper revealing the current status of country’s railways and Vision-2030 document that would soon follow. The Railway Minister Suresh Prabhakar Prabhu has come out with a five-year action plan to transform the ailing Indian Railways that entails an investment of Rs 8,56,020 crore. The mega investment is slated to be mobilised from multiple sources like multilateral development banks, pension funds. Railways intends to partner with key stakeholders like state governments, public sector corporations, multilateral and bi-lateral organisation and other national governments to gain access to long-term financing and technology from overseas. Indian Railways is opened for 100% foreign direct investment (FDI) in various sectors while retaining its overall ownership. It has also invited domestic private sector to improve the last mile connectivity, expand the fleet of rolling stock and modernisation of station infrastructure. It also sought partnership of Members of Parliament for sourcing from MP Local Area Development Fund and municipal corporations wherever necessary.

The private-public partnership (PPP) cell of Railways will be revamped to make it result oriented, “Foreign Rail Technology Cooperation scheme” will be launched. Joint ventures will be set up with States for focused project development, resource mobilization, land acquisition, project implementation and monitoring of critical rail projects. In order to meet the requirements of new lines JVs will also be set up with major public sector customers.

Without putting much pressure on the common man, Prabhu intends to mobilise funds for modernising the railway infrastructure. His predecessors had made some humble attempts but had not met with much success. The Railway Minister intends not to depend upon gross budgetary support (GBS) or extra budgetary support from the general exchequer and seek innovative ways of raising funds. However, he has been able arrest the fall in Annual Plan size of the Railways and raise it by to 52% to be at Rs 1,00,011 crore in 2015-16. Out of this 41.6% resources will come from Central Government support while 17.8 % will be generated from internal resources. 

Revamping management practices, systems, processes, and re-tooling of human resources will be taken up by the Railways to achieve targeted operating ratio for 2015-16 at 88.5%. Fast decision making, tight accountability, improved management information systems and better training and development of human resource will also be part of the action plan to achieve the goals.

If it is the Modinomics that is laying the foundation of new economic agenda, it is Prabhu’s innovative strategy that can be called “Prabhunovation” that seeks to bring a turnaround in Indian Railways.   

Critics say that the Railway Minister in his annual budget has not prescribed any timeline, but Prabhu’s strategy needs to be understood as part of the five-year vision plan.

The annual budget has not seen any hike in passenger fare, giving much relief to the common man. But basic freight rates of cement, coal, grains and pulses, urea, scrap and pig iron, slag, groundnut oil, bitumen and coal tar have been hiked in the range of 2.1% to 10%. The hikes in the case of iron or steel, iron ore (produced in the country) and kerosene has been marginal and limited to only 0.8%, while that of limestone, dolomite and manganese and high speed diesel oil have been marginally decreased. It is evident that cross subsidization of passenger fares by freight rate still continues.

The Railway Minister’s decision not to hike passenger fare has a rationale. The estimated diesel traction of Rs 24,220 crore out of the total estimated fuel cost of Rs 35,046 crore can be revised downwards due to the fall in global prices. Prabhu has been wise not to effect any hike in passenger fares.

Not that Prabhu has kept the development works in abeyance till resources are mobilised. Seventy seven projects covering 9,400 km of doubling/tripling/quadrupling works along with electrification, covering almost all states, at a cost of Rs. 96,182 crore will be taken up. Traffic facility works a top priority with outlay of Rs. 2374 crore have been proposed. In order to accelerate the pace of Railway electrification, 6,608 route kilometres will be sanctioned for 2015-16, an increase of 1330% over the previous year.

As per the Budget proposal, the speed of 9 railway corridors will be increased from existing 110 and 130 kmph to 160 and 200 kmph respectively so that inter-metro journeys like Delhi-Kolkata and Delhi-Mumbai can be completed overnight. Average speed of freight trains in empty and loaded conditions, will be enhanced to 100 kmph for empty freight trains and 75 kmph for loaded trains.

In order to make ticketing more passenger friendly the Budget proposes “operation five minutes” for issuing unreserved tickets, hot buttons, coin vending machines, concessional e-tickets for differently abled travelers, for booking tickets a multi-lingual e-portal  will be developed. Crediting of refunds through banks and unreserved tickets on Smart phones will be available. Proliferation of automatic ticket vending machines with smart cards and currency options, integrated ticketing system on the lines of rail-cum-road tickets, Defence Travel System developed for elimination of Warrants have also been proposed in the Budget.

The Budget has proposed e-catering to select meals from an array of choices. Ordering food through IRCTC website at the time of booking of tickets; integrating best food chains into this project; setting up of Base Kitchens in specified divisions to be run by reputed agencies for serving quality food and expansion of water vending machines will be taken up.

Hand-held terminals to Travelling Ticket Examiners (TTEs) for verification of passengers will now be provided for verification of passengers, possibility of extending facility of SMS on mobiles as a valid proof of travel for PRS tickets will be explored. A centrally managed Railway Display Network in over 2000 stations in next two years will be included besides  “SMS Alert” service to inform passengers in advance of the updated arrival/departure time of trains at starting or destination stations.

For the safety of women passengers surveillance cameras will be provided on a pilot basis in selected mainline coaches and ladies’ compartments of suburban coaches.

The Railways will also take up a project for introducing on-board entertainment on select Shatabdi trains; Mobile phone charging facilities will be provided in general class coaches & will be increased in sleeper class coaches.

The Railways has proposed to revamp its station development policy completely and simplifies process for faster development by inviting open bids. It has proposed to develop 10 Satellite Railway terminals in major cities with twin purpose of decongesting the city and providing services to suburban passengers.

Now, 200 more stations to come under Adarsh Station scheme; Wi - Fi to be provided at B category stations; facility of self-operated lockers will be available at stations. Passenger capacity in identified trains will be augmented; more General class coaches will be added in identified trains. The Railways has also approached NID to design user friendly ladders for climbing upper berths. It has also proposed more quota of lower berths for senior citizens. TTEs will now be instructed to help senior citizens, pregnant women and differently-abled persons in obtaining lower berths; middle bay of coaches to be reserved for women and senior citizen.  Provision of Rs. 120 crore has been made for Lifts and escalator; newly manufactured coaches will now be Braille enabled; building wider entrances for the ease of differently-abled passengers; allocation for passenger amenities up by 67%.

Rail Budget has also proposed Coastal Connectivity Program in partnership with ports for Nargol, Chharra, Dighi, Rewas and Tuna. Besides this, projects worth Rs 2500 crore will be taken up through BOT/ Annuity route. These include Wardha- Nagpur 3rd line, Kazipet-Vijaywada 3rd line, Bhadrak –Nargundi 3rd line and Bhuj- Nalia Gauge Conversion.

The Budget proposes constituting an innovation council called “Kayakalp” for business re-engineering and introducing a spirit of innovation in Railways besides setting up of Technology portal to invite innovative technological solutions. Four Railway Research Centers in select universities for fundamental research have also been proposed besides ‘Malaviya Chair’ for Railway Technology at IIT (BHU), Varanasi.

Declaring safety of paramount importance for Railways, an action plan has been proposed for accident prone areas. The Budget also proposes 970 ROB/RUBs and other safety-related works to eliminate 3438 level crossings at a total expense of Rs. 6,581 crore, 2600% higher than the previous year. Train Protection Warning System and Train Collision Avoidance System will be installed on select routes at the earliest.

In order to make travel on Indian Railways a happy experience, the Budget has given thrust on Cleanliness and proposes a new department for keeping stations and trains clean under Swachh Rail Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. New toilets will be built at 650 additional stations; online booking of disposable bed rolls will be made available. 24X7 helpline number 138;toll-free number 182 for security related complaints have also been proposed in the budget.

According to some estimates, Railways need Rs 50,000 crore yearly for the next ten years to complete all ongoing projects. Add to this is Prabhu’s new agenda. Much has been talked about Modinomics paving the way for new economic agenda. It is also time to watch Prabhunovation in action.

(Ashok B Sharma is a senior Columnist writing on strategic and policy issues in several Indian and international newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at ashokbsharma@gmail.com His mobile phone number +91-9010902204)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

 Highlights of the Railway Budget 2015-16
Focus on cleanliness, safety and quality of life in journey

The budget highlighted the four goals for Indian Railways over next five years which include delivering a sustained and measurable improvement in customer experience, making Railways a safer means of travel, expanding Bhartiya Rail’s capacity substantially and modernising infrastructure and making Bhartiya Rail financially self-sustainable. It also stated five key drivers for execution strategy which includes adopting a medium term perspective, building partnerships with key stake holders to gain access to long term financing and technology from overseas, the private sector to improve last mile connectivity, expand fleet of rolling stock and modernize our station infrastructure, leveraging additional resources, revamping management practices, systems, processes and re-tooling of human resources and setting standards of Governance and Transparency.

Snapshot of Railway Budget 2015-16

The budget stated the proposed investment plan for the period 2015-2019 amounting to Rs. 8,56,020 crore, which will facilitate network expansion, network decongestion, safety, research, passenger amenities, high speed rails and elevated corridors and station redevelopment and logistics parks.

PROPOSED INVESTMENT PLAN (2015-2019)
Item
Amount (Rs in crore)
Network Decongestion
199320
Network Expansion (including electrification)
193000
National Projects (North Eastern & Kashmir connectivity projects)
39000
Safety
127000
Information Technology / Research
5000
Rolling Stock
102000
Passenger Amenities
12500
High Speed Rail & Elevated corridor
65000
Station redevelopment and logistic parks
100000
Others
13200
TOTAL
8,56,020
Source: Railway Budget 2015-16, Ministry of Railways, Government of India

Quality of life in journeys—The major thrust areas of action plan focuses on establishing a new department for cleanliness “Swachh Rail Swachh Bharat” and “Bio toilets”, 24X7 helpline number and issuing unreserved tickets, coin vending machines, concessional e-tickets for differently abled travellers, developing a multi-lingual e-portal, etc. “SMS Alert” service informing passengers in advance of the updated arrival/departure time of trains at starting or destination stations. Introducing centrally managed Railway Display Network in over 2000 stations in next two years. Further, 200 more stations to come under Adarsh Station scheme; Wi - Fi to be provided at B category stations, online booking of wheel chair on payment basis for senior citizens, patients and the differently-abled passengers through IRCTC on select stations

Station Redevelopment-- Station redevelopment policy to be revamped and processes to be simplified

Network Expansion-- Decongesting networks with basket of traffic generating projects priority; priority to last mile connectivity projects ; fast track sanctioned works on 7,000 kms of double/third/fourth lines and commission 1200 km in 2015-16 at an investment of Rs. 8686 crore, 84% higher Y-O-Y. Further, acceleration of pace of Railway electrification, 6,608 route kilometers sanctioned for 2015-16 ,an increase of 1330% over the previous year.

Expansion of freight handling capacity --Transport Logistics Corporation of India (TRANSLOC), to be set up for developing common user facilities with handling and value-added services to provide end-to-end logistics solution at select Railway terminals through Public Private Partnerships.

Improving train speed--Speed of 9 railway corridors to be increased from existing 110 and 130 kmph to 160 and 200 kmph respectively. Average speed of freight trains in empty and loaded conditions, will be enhanced to 100 kmph for empty freight trains and 75 kmph for loaded trains; loading density on all major freight bearing routes to be upgraded to 22.82 tonne axle loads.

Bullet train--Feasibility study for High Speed Rail between Mumbai-Ahmadabad is in advanced stage and report expected by the mid of this year. For other high speed routes on the diamond quadrilateral,studies are being commissioned.

Safety--Action plan being prepared for areas where accidents occur and five-year corporate safety plan by June 2015 indicating annual quantifiable targets. Research Designs and Standards Organisation (RDSO) to develop a suitable device with reliable power supply system based on theft-proof panels/batteries in consultation with Indian Space Research Organization, using geo-spatial technology for providing audio-visual warning to road users at unmanned level crossings; radio based signal design project been taken up with IIT Kanpur for warnings at unmanned level crossing.

Technology Upgradation--Constituting an innovation council called “Kayakalp” for business re-engineering and introducing a spirit of innovation in Railways. Further, technology portal being constituted to invite innovative technological solutions. IT vision to be unveiled, information on latest berth availability station navigation system, bar coded/ Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tracking of parcels and freight wagons, automated parcel warehouses. Integration of train control and asset management applications.

Partnerships for development Public Private Partnership (PPP) cell to be revamped to make it result oriented.  Projects for rail connectivity to many ports and mines being developed. Further, Foreign Rail Technology Cooperation scheme” to be launched. Joint ventures to be set up with States for focused project development, resource mobilization,land acquisition, project implementation and monitoring of critical rail projects.

Resource Mobilisation-- Plan Budget up by 52% from Rs. 65,798 crore to Rs. 1,00,011 crore in 2015-16. Support from the Central Government 41.6% of the Plan and Internal generation 17.8 %. Further, setting up of a Financing Cell in the Railway Board. Setting up an infrastructure fund, a holding company and a JV with an existing NBFC of a PSU with Indian Railway Finance Corporation (IRFC), for raising long term debt from domestic as well as overseas sources, including multilateral and bilateral financial institutions.

Energy and sustainability --Environment Directorate to be constituted and detailed energy audit for energy saving.  Procuring power through the bidding process which is likely to save at least Rs. 3,000 crore in next few years. 1000 MW solar plants will be set up by the developers on Railway/private land and Railway buildings with subsidy/viability gap funding support of Ministry of Non-Renewable Energy in next five years.

Transparency and Governance initiatives --System of on-line applications introduced and e-procurement value chain being expanded. Constituting a mechanism for making regulations, setting performance standards, determining tariffs & adjudicating disputes among licensees/private partners and the Ministry, subject to review in appeal.

Social initiatives --Infrastructure to be made available for skill development and promotion of products made by Self Help Groups, consisting mainly of women and youth on the model of Konkan Railway.

Tourism --Incredible Rail for Incredible India to be launched and training of auto-rickshaw and taxi-operators as tourist-guides on the model of Konkan Railway.  Coaches in select trains connecting major tourist destinations to travel agencies may be offered on a revenue sharing model.  Gandhi circuit to be used to attract tourists to mark the occasion of 100 years of the return of Mahatma Gandhi to India from South Africa; IRCTC will work on Kisan Yatra, a special travel scheme for farmers for farming & marketing technique centres. 

Budget Estimates for 2015-16-- Passenger earnings growth is pegged at 16.7% with a target budget at Rs. 50,175 crore. Freight traffic is pegged at an all time high incremental traffic of 85 million tonnes, anticipating a healthier growth in the core sector of economy. Other coaching and sundries are projected at Rs. 4,612 crore and Rs. 7,318 crore. Gross Traffic Receipts has been estimated at Rs 1,83,578 crore with a growth of 15.3%. Appropriation to Pension Fund proposed at Rs 35,260 crore and appropriation to Depreciation Reserve Fund (DRF) at Rs 8,100 crore. Appropriation of Rs 7,616 crore proposed to be made to Capital Fund for payment of principal component of lease charges to IRFC (Indian Railway Finance Corporation). The plan outlay stands at Rs 1,00,011 crore for the year 2015-16 with an increase of 52% over RE 2014-15.

A group of 35 children took over the iconic National Stock Exchange on Children’s Day ON  NOVEMBER 15, 2017  BY  NARESH SAGAR LEAVE A C...