Indian Railway budget

I did not go through it in detail. In fact, hardly. Nor have I read the Minister’s budget speech. But, all I know is that it took several clicks to see the actual budget document.

The first thing one thinks of when one hears the word, ‘Budget’ is that it is about revenue and expenditure, budgeted vs. actual for the current year, explanation for variances, numbers for the coming year, rationale, assumptions and risks to the estimates.

It seems like it is a bit too much to ask of many governments around the world to make the whole thing a lot simpler for ordinary folks to understand. Not just in India.

The Railway budget for 2016-17 is here. A good summary from Parliamentary Research Service (PRS) is here.

A very subtle comment on the budget is from Prof. Bibek Debroy who had chaired a committee on reforming the Railways.

Three key comments from him:

A lot of attention centres on the operating ratio (OR), ostensibly a surrogate measure of what the Railways can spend on capital expenditure, other than what is available from Union government through gross budgetary support (GBS). In 2015-16, the OR is expected to be 90% and in 2016-17, it is expected to be 92%. Both numbers are better than what was feared. However, in the absence of proper commercial accounting principles, the OR is really derived as a residual, since one can inadequately provide for depreciation and safety.

Goals for 2020 cannot be achieved in the absence of structural reforms.

The silo that lacks a mention is about HR. But then, mentioning everything in a Budget Speech may also be tactically counter-productive.



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