India's largest public transporter has to reform its accounting practices to determine the losses it can sustain
Indian Railways’ subsidy burden has increased and it hasn’t been able to capitalise from sundry earnings, like revenue from leasing and advertisements.
In 1959, John Meyer founded transport economics to study resource allocation in the sector. The field also studies the relevance of public transport and whether the sector should be run for profits.
Many development economists support subsidising public transport, arguing that the benefits of infrastructure and urban development outweigh the losses. The debate is about the bill for such losses. As its finances deteriorate, the Indian Railways faces a similar debate.
In 2015-16, Railways funded 18 per cent of its capital expenditure through internal resources. In 2021-22, internal resources will account for just 1.05 per cent of Railways’ capital spending. India’s biggest public sector utility expects to raise 2.85 per cent of its capital expenditure from internal resources in 2022-23. That is a tough ask: in the last seven years, Railways has not once met its target.
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