Rail Budget: Didi distracted, Railways in red

Mamata Banerjee

In the nine months between April and December 2010, an unprecedented 10 of the 16 Zonal Railways on the Indian Railways network spent more to earn less.

So grave was the situation that on an average, all the Zonal Railways put together spent close to Rs 115 to earn every Rs 100 during that period a record low.

That the Indian Railways is actually in the red and staring at a huge financial crisis is a fact Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee her eyes set on this April's West Bengal elections since she took charge in 2009 will struggle to hide when she presents her third Rail Budget on Friday.

Information with The Indian Express reveals that Railways' Operating Ratio (money spent to earn Rs 100), a key indicator of its financial health, witnessed an alarming rise in the first nine months of the current fiscal and it will take some doing to bring it down to the traditional average of 75 in the remaining three months.

Sources say that a combination of factors, from decreased passenger and freight earnings to increased expenditure, are mainly to be blamed.

Not only the four biggest Zonal Railways, Northern, Eastern, Western and Southern, had an operating ratio of over 100 percent, even comparatively smaller zones like the North Western, South Western and North Eastern spent much more than Rs 100 to earn every Rs 100.

While the Northeast Frontier Railway was the worst offender with an Operating Ratio of 201.7, the North Eastern Railway, Eastern Railway and Southern Railway had Operating Ratios of 198.8, 187.6 and 145, respectively.

What is alarming is the fact that Railways itself had not set very ambitious targets for itself. Of the 10 zones which have reported an operating ratio of over 100 percent till December 2010, eight were targeting operating ratios of 100 percent or above by that time. The fact that many of these zones have overshot their already bloated targeted operating ratios is the cause for alarm in Rail Bhavan.

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