Government of India has decided to stop presenting the Railway Budget and Union General Budget separately from the financial year 2017-18. The decision has become a hot topic of debate and discussion for all the quarters. B-schools also included it in their final admission round as a topic for Group Discussion (GD).
Below are shared the key facts, merits and demerits regarding the merging of Railway budget to General Budget. It depends upon the candidate which path he/she proposes to choose during GD round – whether to support the topic or oppose it. The suggestion is to choose only one track and must not switch over to other side after getting influenced by other speakers as it may not go in your favour.
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Till 1924, the Railway Budget was a part of Union General Budget. It was separated from Main Budget afterwards as it constituted 84% part of the General Budget and a need was felt to present it separately. But now Railway Budget is less than 15% of the Union General Budget.
Based on the recommendation of Acworth Committee report in 1924, presentation of separate railway budget was implemented.
The committee cited number of countries where separate railway budget was presented. However, now none of them separately presents the Railway Budget.
Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu wrote a letter to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to merge the Railway and General Budgets together.
After raising this issue in the Rajya Sabha, the Finance Ministry constituted a 5 member committee to look into the matter and submit report by August 31, 2016. The recommendation that presentation of Railway and Union Budget could be merged was accepted.
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Key points supporting the merger (Pros)
Resulting from this merger of budgets, the positive implications are as below:
- There is no constitutional or legal requirement for separate railway budget. Union Budget is a constitutional requirement. As such there is no need to present the Railway Budget separately
- Railways should function with a commercial objective. Therefore the decisions should be left to railway board. The decision cannot and should not be left to Parliament.
- So far railway budget has remained an avenue for populism. MPs demanded new trains and stops for existing ones. These decisions are supposed to be taken by railway board on a commercial basis.
- Lot of resources used to be wasted in the process of preparing the separate Railway Budget which is not required. Simplification of the complicated relationship between Finance Ministry and Railways is required.
- By presenting the separate budget, Railways had to pay annual dividend for the budgetary support it received from the government. Now there will be no such burden on Railways.
- Merging the Rail Budget into the General Budget will result in a seamless transportation policy. During the British Raj, Railway Budget made up for 85 percent of the country’s general budget. Now, it accounts for only 15 percent.
- The merger will keep the Rail Budget free of political pressures. It used to be a bargaining chip by major political parties to enlist smaller parties into a coalition.
- Indian Railways is suffering from huge revenue deficit. This merger will ease the burden as the deficit will be transferred to the Union Ministry of Finance.
- No the Railways will be able to concentrate on revenues and revenue generation mechanisms
- Railways will now enjoy more functional autonomy without bothering about budgetary constraints.
- Now Railways does not have to reel under an additional burden of Rs 40,000 crore from higher salaries following implementation of the 7th Pay Commission.
- With Railways becoming a part of the overall Budget, the capital expenditure, revenue deficit can be taken care of by the centre.
- There have been mismanagement in Indian railways and if there are chances of seeing it improve, merging it with the Union budget is just the solution that could help
Key points against the topic (CONS)
- All railways related expenditures will also become part of the Union budget. A fall in revenue or gross receipts in the general budget will mean that the finance ministry will be carrying out similar cuts in expenditure allocated to railways, also.
- The Railways may become just another government department losing its commercial culture. In the process, it could lose its commercial character.
- The Finance Ministry, to earn populism may not raise passenger fares. It in turn won't bring in money for the railways and hurt modernisation plans. Without fare hike, salaries, fuel and equipment costs will also suffer.
- Railways is the most used mode of freight transport. Government's infrastructure expansion plans also rely a lot on railways, the merger can actually cover cracks in the rail department.
- The privatisation attempts in Railways may get affected adversely as after the merger, efforts to bring in more investments from outside will suffer a blow.
However, it has been pointed out that there will be less wastage of time when a new policy is initiated and implemented. Keeping both the budgets separate resulted in a lot of drawbacks and hindrances that had to be faced by the railway ministry before it could decide upon a solution. Read More GD Topics
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