New Delhi, Apr 15: With the extension of the lockdown, Indian Railways is likely to miss its revenue target for the consecutive second financial year in succession as there will be no passenger-carrying train service for the entire month of April stretching upto May 3.
Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC), the railways’ ticketing arm, will carry on with its current responsibility of preparing free meals at its base kitchens for the needy people at various places across the country.
The state-run transporter missed the earning target for the fiscal 2019-20 due to the economic slowdown resulting in low demand in freight loading and the decline in passenger booking because of the COVID-19 lockdown since March 22. The earnings target for passengers’ bookings was kept at Rs 56,000 crore and for freight collection, it expected a revenue of Rs 1.43 lakh crore in its 2019-20 budget.
With the economic gloom looming large in the wake of the novel coronavirus crisis, the negative growth is likely to be repeated for the current fiscal year [2020-21] as well, as the Railways has set a target of earnings via passengers at Rs 61,000 crore and goods earnings at Rs 1,47,000 crore.
Though support measures are expected to be announced by the government to tide over the crisis, the pandemic’s impact on the rail sector is so severe that a special package will barely bring it out of the red zone.
As the government has decided to continue with the lockdown till May 3 as a measure to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, train tickets booked by more than one crore passengers across the country got cancelled and around Rs 725 crore are being refunded. According to the Railways data, about 92 lakh passengers had booked their tickets for travel between April 15 and April 30, as the lockdown declared in March was supposed to be over by April 14. For travel between April 30 and May 3, about 13 lakh more passengers had booked their tickets.
According to a senior Railways official, the advance ticket booking for April 15-May 3 period witnessed a reduced demand--only 10% to 20% of the normal booking on any given day. With the extension of cancellation of passenger-carrying train service, the online refunds will be automatically remitted by the Railways to the customers. Those who have booked tickets at the counters can take their refund by July 31, 2020, according to the Ministry of Railways.
In March, the Railways had refunded Rs 750 crore for booking cancellations due to the lockdown. The official said that now, the entire focus is on the pandemic and utilising our resources to fight it out.
Railways is also converting coaches into isolation beds, making facial masks, hand sanitisers and coveralls to help contain the spread of the infection, besides transporting essential goods. The public behemoth is expecting to receive nearly Rs 950 crore from the Central COVID-19 fund as the cost to the Railways for converting coaches into hospital beds and again restoring them for passenger service later.
According to the Railways, it costs about Rs 2 lakh to convert a coach into an isolation ward while restoration cost is estimated to be around Rs 1 lakh.
The national transporter has already converted 5,000 coaches into isolation wards in the first phase, out of its total target of 20,000.
With the increasing number of novel coronavirus cases [crossing the 10,000 mark in India], the central government has had no option but to extend the lockdown. In continuation of the measures taken in order to fight the pandemic, it has been decided that all passenger train services including premium service, mail/express trains, local trains, suburban service, Kolkata Metro Rail and Konkan Railway shall continue to remain cancelled till May 3, 2020, the railway notification said after the announcement of lockdown extension.
There will be no booking whatsoever till further order. However, the facility of online cancellation will remain functional.
All counters for ticket bookings will remain closed till further orders. Full refund will be credited for tickets of the cancelled trains as well as the trains that have not been cancelled yet.
However, the Railways will continue to run freight trains to transport the essential supplies to and from various parts of the country.
Since the entire passenger fleet stands idle coupled with the large number of ticket cancellations, the passenger revenue is expected to go for a toss. On the freight front, the demand for coal, steel, fertilisers and iron ore is seeing a drastic fall in demand and unless the market opens up steadily, a turnaround is unlikely.
Also read: COVID-19: In the Land of a Heartless Lockdown