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Railway finances running on time

New Delhi, Feb. 24: Indian Railways is headed for rosier days. Railway minister Lalu Prasad today unveiled an annual plan that would leave the department with a fund balance of Rs 12,819 crore at the end of 2006-07.

The annual plan outlay for the coming year has been pegged at Rs 23,475 crore ' the largest-ever for the railways. Of this, Rs 10,794 crore would be met through internally generated resources. Around Rs 7,511 crore would come as support from the general exchequer, yielding a very strong operating ratio of 84.3 per cent.

As much as Rs 5,170 crore would be raised through extra-budgetary resources, including Rs 4,170 crore through market borrowing by the Indian Railway Finance Corporation. Another Rs 500 crore would be raised by the Rail Vikas Nigam Limited and a similar amount will be borrowed under the wagon investment scheme.

“The whole nation can see today that the track is same, the railway men are same but the image of Indian Railways is aglow,” said Lalu Prasad while presenting the budget.

The turnaround in railway finances can be gauged from the fact that in 2001 the department had deferred dividend payment with fund balances plummeting to a meagre Rs 350 crore. Lalu Prasad took a dig at critics by pointing out that “experts had started saying it (railways) was enmeshed in a terminal debt trap”.

Overall, the Indian Railways is expecting the gross traffic revenues for 2006-07 to be at Rs 59,978 crore ' Rs 5278 crore higher than the revised estimates of the current financial year.

“Based on present trends, the freight loading target is being raised from 635 million tonnes to 668 million tonnes and the goods revenue target from Rs 33,480 crore to Rs 36,490 crore,” the minister said.

According to the revised estimates of 2005-06, internal resources before dividend are expected to reach an unprecedented level of Rs 12,966 crore. “Even after setting aside the effects of the accounting changes, this amount would be Rs 11,350 crore. Fund balances would be at a record level of Rs 11,280 crore and the operating ratio is expected to improve to 83.7 per cent in 2005-06,” said Lalu Prasad.

The turnaround in finances has been attributed to the robust 10 per cent rise in freight loading and 18 per cent rise in freight revenues during the first nine months of the current fiscal.

For 2006-07, the freight loading target has been set at 726 million tonnes and freight output at 479 btkms. A growth target of 11 per cent has been set for the freight and passenger revenues and 19 per cent in other coaching segments.

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