Odisha train accident: 2022 CAG report flags decline in funds allotted for track renewal

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For Western Railway, one of the busiest segments, during 2019-20, the money spent on track renewals was a mere 3.01%.

While Union railway minister Ashwini Vaishnaw on Sunday said the “root cause” of the triple train accident in Odisha’s Balasore district has been identified, the Comptroller and Auditor General’s 2022 report ‘Derailment in Indian Railways’, flagged serious concerns ranging from not utilising a special railway fund on priority tasks to reduction in money spent on track renewal.

The railway safety fund or the Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh (RRSK) is a reserve fund that received a corpus of ₹ 1 lakh crore over five years starting from 2017-18. The report noted that the improper utilisation of funds was one of the major reasons behind the 289 derailments (26%) linked to track renewals out of the total 1127 derailments from 2017-21. Apart from the decline in overall expenditure on priority tasks from the RRSK, the outlay for track renewal works reduced and the already allocated funds were also not appropriately used, according to the report. This will have an adverse impact on timely completion of track renewal works, the report noted.

“The overall expenditure on priority-I works from RRSK showed a declining trend from 81.55% ( ₹13,652 crore) in 2017-18 to 73.76% ( ₹11,655 crore) in 2019-20. The allotment of funds for track renewal works declined from ₹9607.65 crore (2018-19) to ₹7417 crore in 2019-20,” the report stated.

The railways faced a shortage in deployment of funds to RRSK owing to “adverse internal resource position which defeated its primary objective to support absolute safety in railways”. However, the money spent on non-priority areas rose from 2.76 per cent ( ₹463 crore in 2017-18) to 6.35 per cent ( ₹1,004 crore) in 2019-20, which was ‘against the guiding principles of RRSK deployment framework’.

What did the report say on track renewal?

Out of the 1,14,907 km of total track length of the Indian Railway (IR), 4,500 kms should be renewed annually. However, due to financial constraints, the progress in track renewals has been on a constant decline in the past six years, as per a White Paper quoted in the report. The Standing Committee on Railways (2016-17) observed that the targets kept for track renewals are not in line with the actual requirement on ground.

In 2019-20, only 3.01% ( ₹20.74 crore) of funds out of the total expenditure of ₹689.90 crore were utilised for track renewal on Western Railway, one of the busiest sections. Different railway zones have been surrendering funds over the past few years, the report adds. The report also flagged fund constraints – allotment declined from ₹9,607.65 crore in 2018-19 to ₹7,417 crore in 2019-20 – as a reason for the lapses in maintaining safety related works.

The complete track renewal (CTR) works of selected divisions of the IR failed to achieve its target during 2017-18 to 2019-2020 due to a supply issue of materials. The report concluded that the railways administration failed to implement the Standing Committee recommendations to enhance the physical and financial targets regarding track renewals to ensure safety.