[Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley]
New Delhi: Ending 92-year-old tradition, the Cabinet on Wednesday decided to merge rail budget with the general budget and agreed in-principle to advance the date of its presentation in Parliament from the usual February end.
The actual date for presentation of the general budget for 2017-18 will be decided by the government after taking into account the ensuing assembly elections, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said while briefing the media about the Cabinet decisions.
It is however expected that the budget presentation date will be advanced to February 1 every year, from the last day of February as was the norm.
"From coming year, the railway and the general budgets will be amalgamated. There will be only one budget. And secondly, distinction between plan and non-plan expenditure will be ended from next year. Consequently there will be only one appropriation bill," Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said here after a Cabinet meeting.
Jaitley said over the years the general budget expenditures have gone up than the railways, and added that ministries like defence have more expenditures than railways but form part of the general budget.
The decision to merge the rail and general budgets was mooted by Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu and endorsed by NITI Aayog's member Bibek Debroy, which also proposed the doing away of the distinction between plan and non-plan expenditure.
Both Jaitley and Prabhu clarified that the distinct identity of the Indian Railways will be maintained -- including the freedom to raise resources via extra-budgetary means.
"Functional autonomy of the Railways will be maintained," Jaitley said.
"This is a historic step, matching global benchmark and best. This will help raise capital expenditure in Railways which will enhance connectivity in the country and boost economic growth," Prabhu said.
"Distinct identity of Railways will be maintained. Our effort to leverage extra budgetary resources will continue," he added.
The Railways pay about Rs 10,000 crore as dividend annually.
While clarifying on the new date of the budget, Jaitley said it will be advanced and the government in-principle wants the Finance Bill to be passed before March 31. But the date of the budget will be decided depending on various state elections dates.
The advancement of the date is to ensure the Finance Bill is passed in the first half of the Budget session than to spill over to the second half after recess.
Non-plan expenditure is what the government spends on the so-called non-productive areas, such as salaries, subsidies, loans and interest, while plan expenditure pertains to the money to be set aside for productive purposes, like the various projects of ministries.
Finance ministry officials said after the abolition of the Planning Commission, the relevance of plan and non-plan expenditure is lost -- and a better indicator of productive and general expenditure will be a distinction under the heads of revenue and capital.