Typically, Railway Budgets every year make news for a couple of things; new trains launched (typically from the Minister’s constituency), more sops, and so on. But when the new union minister for Railways, Suresh Prabhu, was presenting the budget, there lot many expectations, not only on rationality but also on sustainability.
Considering the background of the Minister, in terms of his exposure and interests in environmental issues, people were expecting the budget to be green.
On a broader perspective, this budget was indeed a welcome change from all the others. In the past environmental and ecological issues have merely been given a lip-service, this time round there seemed to be a long-term thought and action. The measures mentioned in the budget are varied, and there seemed to be a coherent plan. While ideally, one would have wished for a far greater announcement on the renewable power thrust, 1 GW has been announced for this year. But when you assess it on the base of current solar capacity of the Railways, that is 10MW (from some 500 stations and buildings), it is 100 times increase!
Here are the green policy announcements by the Rail Minister:
- Bio-toilets to be fitted in coaches. There are 17,388 bio toilets currently, and another 17,000 toilets more will be added
- Water vending machines to be introduced in stations to ensure availability of clean drinking water at very low cost
- Water recycling plants will be set up at major water consumption centres after conducting water audit
- Expansion of water harvesting systems
- Setting up an Environment Directorate in Railway Board to give increased focus and thrust on environment management
- Thrust for adoption of energy efficient LED luminaries, appliances, etc. as a part of an energy conservation drive
- Detailed energy audit to discover the huge potential for energy saving
- 1000 MW solar plants will be set up by the developers on Railway/private land and on rooftop of Railway buildings at their own cost with subsidy/viability gap funding support of Ministry of Non Renewable Energy in next five years
- Workshops to be accredited for environment management. This will be extended to the loco-sheds, and major coaching and wagon maintenance depots
- CNG based DEMUs have been introduced on Northern Railway and it is proposed to convert 100 DEMUs to dual fuel – CNG and diesel. Locomotives running on LNG are also currently under development
While, there were no announcements made on the emission standards or even talk of banning plastic from the system, the Minister seemed to have quite heeded with the requests made to him by analysts and journalists like us (read: Dear Mr. Minister; can we have a ‘Greener’ Railway this year?).
In the end, the Minister also emphasised why Railways can be a catalyst to the effort of greening India. He stated: “We need to invest in Indian Railways also because it is necessary for our ecological sustenance. The annual consumption of fuel by the Railways is just about 7% of the annual fuel consumption by the road sector. The energy consumption is about 75%- 90% less for freight traffic when compared to road. The carbon dioxide emission is about 80% less than road. Investment in Indian Railways is an investment in our future. It is an investment in our sustainability. It is an investment for posterity.”