The 92-year-old practice of presenting a separate Rail Budget is set to come to an end from the next fiscal, with the finance ministry accepting railway minister Suresh Prabhu's proposal to merge it with the General Budget.
According to Railways, the finance ministry has now constituted a five-member committee comprising senior officials of the ministry and the national transporter to work out the modalities for the merger. The committee has been asked to submit its report by August 31.
"I had written to finance minister Arun Jaitley for merger of the Rail Budget with General Budget. This will be in the Railway's interest and also in the nation's interest. We are working out the modalities," Prabhu said.
The public sector behemoth has to bear an additional burden of about Rs 40,000 crore on account of implementation of the 7th Pay Commission awards, besides an annual outgo of Rs 32,000 crore on subsidies.
Besides, the delay in completion of projects resulted in cost overrun of Rs 1.07 lakh crore and huge throw-forward of Rs 1.86 lakh crore in respect of 442 ongoing rail projects.
If the merger happens, Indian Railway will get rid of the annual dividend it has to pay for gross budgetary support from the government every year.
According to a senior Railway official, the move to discard the age-old practice of a separate Rail Budget is part of the Modi government's reform agenda.
With the merger, the issue of raising passenger fares, an unpopular decision, will be the finance minister's call.
Prabhu had also told Rajya Sabha on August 9 that he has asked the finance minister to merge the Railway Budget with General Budget in the long-term interest of national transporter as well as the country's economy.
All-India Railwaymen's Federation General Secretary Gopal Mishra said railway ministry's autonomy will be lost in the merger. "But we have to see in what form the merger will happen," he said.
The merger move is significant as it is expected to have political implications.
It has been seen that almost every Railway Minister, particularly in coalition governments, has addressed his constituencies by doling out favours by way of new trains and projects.
The keenly sought after railway ministry is likely to lose much of its sheen if merger happens.