Railways Halts All New  Project Work Amid Covid-19 Crisis
People walk along along a platform as trains sit idle at the New Delhi Railway station in New Delhi, India. (Photographer: Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg)

Railways Halts All New Project Work Amid Covid-19 Crisis

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The Railways has halted all new infrastructure works sanctioned for 2020-21 after the government issued orders suspending new schemes, with costs up to Rs 500 crore, till March 2021 due to the financial crunch brought in by the coronavirus pandemic, a Railway Board order has said.

It has also directed zonal railways and its production units to only take on new works if it was essential for the safety of running trains, that too with the approval of the finance ministry.

The Railways has estimated a loss of Rs 35,000 crore to Rs 40,000 crore in the passenger segment and is 18% behind so far in freight loading as compared to last year due to the pandemic.

Also read: Indian Railways Expects Loss Of Up To Rs 35,000 Crore As Passenger Trains Lie Stranded

The Railway Board in an order dated July 28 has also said all other work sanctioned in previous years that have made little or no progress should be halted as well.

New works included in Pink Book 2020-21 shall be kept in abeyance. However, those works which impact the safe running of trains and are considered essential and inescapable may be considered for sanction. The essentiality of such works will be examined by concerned Additional Member, Additional Member/Works and Additional Member/Revenue, the order said.

Works which have been approved till 2019-20 but have made insignificant physical progress shall be kept frozen till further orders except those which are essentially required for safe running of trains, it stated.

Officials said the Railways' mega infrastructure projects like 100% electrification, doubling its high speed corridors, will not be affected by the order and will continue as per schedule.

However, the Railways has a number of projects lined up for this year -- the first phase of a centralised traffic control deployment plan, automatic train protection system, a project to set up a large solar power facility on railway land, station development project among others. It is not yet clear if this order will put a spanner on these works.

In an office memorandum dated June 4 on Appraisal and Approval of all Public Funded Schemes/Sub Schemes', the government said it has suspended all new schemes up to Rs 500 crore till March 2021, which had earlier received in-principle approval for FY21.

The government said there is unprecedented demand for public financial resources due to Covid-19 and resources need to be used prudently as per emerging and changing priorities. Hence, only schemes announced under the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan and the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Package will be exceptions and will be initiated and continued in FY21.

Also read: Indian Railways Invites Bids To Run 151 Private Trains

The Railway Board order also said unutilized provision of umbrella works of 2018-19 and 2019-20, if any, should also be suspended. It has, however, empowered the general managers of zonal railways and production units to review the works already approved by them.

However, all such exemptions for sanction of works which are considered essential and inescapable will have to be obtained from the Ministry of Finance, the order stated.

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