Aspiring to make railways an engine of growth, Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu today said states will be involved in execution of projects as he pitched for big investments for the turnaround of the "bleeding" and "sinking" largest transporter of the country.
Projecting his rail budget as common man-oriented, he said his ministry has prepared a "point of action" on each of the promises made and talked about framing a five-year action plan for execution of projects so that these are "not forgotten".
The railways has not been able to meet the regional aspirations due to lack of funds and this budget has tried to address it, he said while replying to a debate on Demand for Grants for Railways which was later passed by voice vote.
Noting that allocation to various states in his budget has gone up by two or three times, he said, "Cooperative federalism is the central theme of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.... There is no better endeavour than railways to end regional disparity. It will create jobs. All of us have joint responsibility as it is a national issue."
He rejected the opposition charge that he was leading railways into a debt trap by opting to borrow money for its expansion and to buttress his point, he cited example of railways in advanced countries, like Germany and Japan, which have large debts.
The railways has suffered due to lack of investments as said funds would be required for development of railway stations and augmenting infrastructure, the Minister said.
"If we put investments, it will spur the growth... railways will become an engine of growth for the Indian economy," the Minister said.
"The idea is to bring railway back on tracks. It's bleeding, suffering, sinking and in a deep hole and we want to bring it out of it and make it an engine of growth," he said, adding that he would require support of all political parties, states and local bodies to make it happen.
Prabhu emphasised that if investment is not made, the railways will become "sick".
To press his point on investment, Prabhu referred to the case of China whose example was cited by some members and said that country has seven times more investment than India in the sector, a lot of which is borrowed money.
He said the Railway Ministry proposes to join hands with states to execute rail projects to fulfill regional aspirations.
Many states have already written to him and MoUs would be signed soon, the Railway Minister said.
"This is a budget whose only focus is the 'aam aadmi', the common man," he said as he reiterated his commitment to execute pending proposals, noting that he did not announce new projects due to this reason.
His reply also saw sharp attack from opposition members when he referred to the latest report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Railways headed by Dinesh Trivedi (TMC). The opposition saw it as an attack on the Committee.This led to a brief disruption.
At this, Speaker Sumitra Mahajan asked him to not to refer to the report again and again and instead talk about what he was going to do. She also assured the opposition that she would go through records and expunge adverse comment, if any.
Prabhu said railways had taken up a project to improve 200 railway stations and he would be writing to MPs concerned to bring them on board.
Responding to points made by the members, the Railway Minister said, "Since presenting the budget we have done a lot of things. We have point of action on all promises."
He noted the launch of helpline number, Kaya Kalp council and signing of an agreement with LIC for investment to buttress his point.
"It would not be a blind investment. All projects will be studied by experts," he said, naming noted bankers like Arundhati Bhattacharya and K V Kamath who would help the ministry in ths regard.
To make his point about poor implementation of projects due to lack of funds, he said only 317 out of 676 new line proposals in the last 30 years were executed and the ratio fell further in the last 10 years when only a single project was completed out of 99 announced.
His reply, which was briefly marred by protests from opposition members, ended on a lighter note as he implored members to allocate money from their MPLAD funds for the execution of railway projects.
Earlier, the opposition attacked the government for focussing on bullet trains but failing to improve amenities and safety of passengers on trains.
Opposition members said while Narendra Modi government is focussing on issues like bullet trains and wifi on board, basics like clean toilets, hygenic food and safety were being ignored.
Initiating the debate, Rajeev Satav (Cong) said the Railway Minister was having 'Mungerilal ke haseen sapne' (day dreaming) which could not come true.
He claimed the speeches delivered by former Railway Minister D V Sadananda Gowda and incumbent Suresh Prabhu differed in basic facts like number of passangers using trains and the length of railway tracks.
He said while both have handled the Railway portfolio in the same government, their speeches differed on facts. "Who is lying? Who is at fault in giving incorrect information has to be found out," Satav said.
Earlier, members had to wait for nearly 10 minutes to begin the debate due to lack of quorum. They pointed out that neither Railway Minister Prabhu nor his deputy Manoj Sinha were present. Sinha came rushing to the Lok Sabha chamber followed by Prabhu.
Suresh Angadi (BJP) said Railway is indeed in a debt trap as pointed by Satav but NDA government cannot be blamed for it. He said the previous governments were responsible for the situation the Railways finds itself in today.
"Previous governments lacked vision which the Modi government has," he said, adding past Railway Ministers only made announcements.
R Gopalakrishnan (AIADMK) stressed that Railways should avoid falling into a debt trap again.
Anupam Hazara (TMC) said priorities need to be set for Railways. He said instead of wifi and bullet trains, they shuld work on clean toilets, safety of passengers and hygenic platforms.
"Tall promises are made but are there resources? There are no deadlines to fulfill promises," he said.
Ravindra Babu Pandula (TDP) suggested that railways should provide free food to passengers travelling by second class.
Jay Prakash Narayan Yadav (RJD) said the country does not need bullet trains but better passenger safety.
Among those who participated in the discussion were V B Raut (Shiv Sena), Boora Narsaiah Goud (TRS), P Karunakaran (CPI-M), Y V Subba Reddy (YSR Congress), Bijoya Chakaravarty (BJP)Prem Singh Chandumajra (SAD), Dushyant Chautala (INLD), Ravindra Kumar Ray (BJP), N K Premachandran (RSP), K Suresh (Cong) and Dharam Vira Gandhi (AAP).