Railways may have cited lack of funds as the reason to deny funds to many projects across India, but one item in the rail budget has been sanctioned more than what was originally demanded - and it is not something the transporter cannot do without immediately.
The budget has sanctioned Rs 25 crore for the purchase of 10 mini, portable biodiesel plants - without officially trying out even one. Northern Railway, which got the money, had asked to buy only four.
The generosity of the ministry has raised the curiosity of officials in the zonal railway as well as a section of the Railway Board because the transporter has yet to ascertain the real efficacy of these machines, and also because it is universal budgetary practice to sanction less money than what is demanded.
Notably, the budget has allocated only Rs 1,000 for the purpose. Officials said the remaining Rs 24,999,9000 will come in the form of re-appropriation as the year progresses and purchase is finalised. “Sanction is what matters. Allocation can increase depending on progress,” said a ministry official.
The machine railways wants to purchase is largely manufactured by foreign farms, which employ local agents to lobby for them in India. The procurement, as usual, will happen through a tender and the lowest bidder will get the order.
In its Machinery and Plant Programme, 2014, Northern Railway had proposed four mini bio-diesel plants, each of 4kl capacity. The justification given was that the portable nature of the plants would enable bio-diesel production even in remote locations where raw material is easily available. The money demanded for this purpose was Rs 10 crore.
“The plant pays for itself in about two years apart from bringing about intangible benefits to the environment,” the official pre-budget document reads.
The usual custom in railways is to buy such technology on a low scale to try out and see if it suits the desired purpose. New technology in railways is also vetted by Research Designs and Standards Organisation.
Railway Board officials said with diesel bills touching the sky and the budget laying down a policy roadmap to use more biodiesel in the future, the procurement was felt necessary. “Indian Railways will start using Bio-Diesel up to 5 per cent of the total fuel consumption in diesel locomotives. This will save precious foreign exchange substantially,” the rail budget speech says.