Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw presented an ambitious plan for the Northeast, securing an astounding Rs. 10,369 crores in the interim Budget 2024–25, on February 1. This marks a remarkable 388 percent increase from the average allocation of Rs. 2,122 crores between 2009 and 2014.
Vaishnaw highlighted the budget’s strategic significance, featuring a capital outlay of over Rs. 2.5 lakh crores for Indian Railways. The plan introduces three revolutionary railway corridor programs: the Energy, Mineral, and Cement Corridor; the Port-Connectivity Corridor; and the High-Traffic Density Corridor. These projects aim to enhance logistics efficiency, lower transportation costs, and improve passenger train safety.
A substantial portion of the budget targets converting 40,000 standard railway coaches to Vande Bharat standards, showcasing an effort to modernize and standardise the rail fleet. Additionally, a comprehensive redevelopment scheme for 60 Northeastern stations is underway, promising top-notch amenities and facilities.
The successful launch of the ‘One Station One Product’ stand, providing direct access to locally made goods, indicates profitable prospects for expanding and supporting local businesses. Vaishnaw expressed satisfaction with the initiatives underway in the Northeast, praising the dedicated teams working in challenging terrain for project completion. Despite the tough Himalayan environment, all projects are progressing rapidly.
Budget cuts cast shadows on NE development
However, amid positive developments, concerns arise in other sectors. The ₹47,65,768 crore budget presented by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is a 6.1 percent increase above the revised estimate from the previous year. However, cutbacks have an influence on important North-East programs, such as infrastructure development and GST refunds, which may have an impact on the region’s growth trajectory.
The budget for GST refunds to industrial units in the North East and Himalayan states has been cut from ₹1,755 crore to ₹1,382 crore. Similarly, the Prime Minister’s Development Initiative for North East Region (PMDevINE) faces a reduction from ₹2,200 crore to ₹2,055 crore. The North East Special Infrastructure Development Scheme (NESIDS) witnesses a decrease from ₹2,490 crore to ₹2,381 crore, and the budget for Indradhanush Gas Grid Limited (IGGL) is slashed from ₹1,300 crore to ₹1,000 crore.
Furthermore, subsidies, including those for the North Eastern Region, see a reduction from ₹1,633 crore to ₹1,200 crore, raising concerns about the overall impact on the development trajectory of the region. Additionally, Sitharaman’s announcement of long-term tourist loans for states aims to provide a substantial boost to India’s Northeastern regions.