New Delhi: The railway budget 2002-03 made an unperturbed journey when Railway Minister Nitish Kumar presented it in the Indian Parliament on 26 February. There were, however, interruptions before Kumars presentation was made, but once the one-hour-long speech in Hindi started, everyone, including National Democratic Front and Opposition members, sat in rapt attention.
Many Congress members were even seen congratulating Kumar, as the budget seems to have impressed them. The reason: a moderate hike in passenger fares, notwithstanding the severe resource crunch faced by the Indian railways.
Kumars announcement of a series of new projects, introduction of trains and modernisation programmes and measures for rail safety and passenger amenities was received with much aplomb. But once the initial unanimous acceptance of the budget was over, Opposition members were back to the same trick. They said the budget is illusionary and insipid, and prophesised that it will hit the common man, especially farmers.
Sample some reactions:
Congress MP Renuka Chaudhury: It is an illusion. It has to be seen if the rationalisation of freight will help farmers reach their produce to consumers.
Congress deputy leader in the Lok Sabha Shivraj Patil: It is a beaten-track budget, lacking vision, and will not help in expanding the railways.
CPI (M) MP Nilotpal Basu: Its the same hackneyed story. The increase in tariff will have an impact on the price of essential commodities.
CPI (M) leader Rupchand Pal: Though rail safety is a major concern, imposing surcharge on this will have a serious impact on the common man.
Congress leader Girija Vyas: The budget was disappointing because it will hike the indirect taxes even further. The monthly season ticket for 10-15 kms and even dals and salt have not been spared. The poor will have to bear the brunt of this.
Telugu Desam leader Yerran Naidu: The railway minister has made a good exercise in balancing resources. The marginal increase in passenger fares will not exert much burden on common travellers. The way the minister has composed the budget, the railways can complete the last-mile projects. This will help the consumer.
Lets look at the highlights of the budget:
A modest jump: A modest hike in passenger fares and freight tariffs has been proposed in the budget. The entire exercise will fetch a Rs 1,360 crore additional revenue to the railways. Of this, the passenger fare hike will net Rs 910 crore and the freight hike another Rs 450 crore.
Passenger fares: The hike in passenger fares will net Rs 910 crore a year. The minimum fare for second-class rail and express trains is proposed to be increased from Rs 15 to Rs 16. The hike ranges from Re 1 to Rs 6 at distances up to 341 km. The minimum fare for ordinary second class will increase around Rs 3-4 with the maximum increase for any distance up to 100 km pegged at only Rs 3. At certain distances, fares will be lower by Re 1 to Rs 2 owing to rationalisation. There will, however, be no changes in the system of charging for quarterly season tickets, existing fare structure of Rajdhani and Shatabdi and parcel and luggage rates, including newspapers and magazines.
Freight rates: While freight rates for coal, raw materials used in steel-making and iron ore have been hiked marginally, that for finished steel, pig iron, cement and most petroleum products have been reduced. The government has also proposed to hike the freight rates on edible oils, foodgrain and pulses, which could result in an increase in the retail prices of these items. Freight structure for base class have been rationalised to remove anomalies, resulting in marginal decrease at certain distances and minimal increase in certain others. The number of classes for different commodities has been reduced from 59 to 32. The ratio of freight in highest class to lowest drops from 8 to 3.3.
Rs 17,000-crore safety fund: To minimise injuries to passengers during train accidents, the government is taking immediate steps to redesign coach interiors with improved fittings and features. Production of such improved coaches will commence during 2002-03. The government has set up a Rs 17,000-crore special railway safety fund for clearing the backlog of replacement of over-aged assets over the next six years. The project includes renewal of nearly 17,000 kms of track, rebuilding of over 3,000 bridges, replacement of signalling gears at almost 950 stations, replacement of rolling stock and investment in safety enhancement aids.
Twenty-five new trains: Besides the Jan Shatabi Trains, Kumar announced the introduction of 25 new trains. He announced increase in frequency and extension of 26 trains, including the Rajdhani Express between Guwahati and New Delhi, which will now run every day, and New Delhi-Guwahati Rajdhani Express, which will now run four days a week. The new trains are:
1. Durg-Bangalore via Gondia, Chanda Fort and Secunderabad (Weekly)
2. Guwahati-Jodhpur-Bikaner via Jaipur (Weekly)
3. Jammu Tawi-Haridwar
4. Sarnath-Rajgir Budh Purnima express via Gaya (Tri-weekly)
5. Durg-Jaipur (Weekly)
6. Bangalore-Gandhidham via Hubli (Weekly)
7. Ahmedabad-Varanasi via Allahabad (Weekly)
8. Hatia-Mumbai (Lokmanya Tilak terminus) via Gaya, Varanasi (Weekly).
9. Garwa Road-Hatia
10. Cannanore-Bangalore (Weekly)
11. Chennai Egmore-Trivandrum via Nagercoil
12. Habibganj-Mumbai (Lokmanya Tilak Terminus) (Weekly)
13. Bhopal-Howrah (Weekly)
14. Jaipur-Mumbai (Bandra terminus) (Tri-Weekly)
15. Nanded-Pune (Tri-Weekly)
16. Nizamuddin-Kanyakumari via Villupuram (Weekly)
17. Howrah-Gorakhpur via Narkatiaganj (Weekly)
18. New Delhi-Howrah (Bi-Weekly)
19. Indore-Patna via Bhopal-Lucknow (Weekly)
22. Vishakhapatnam-Chennai (Weekly)
23. Pathankot-Delhi (Tri-Weekly)
24. Mhow-Chittorgarh (Metre Gauge)
25. Ernakulam-Calicut (in place of 6341/6342 Ernakulam-Trivandrum Express via Alleppey and after introduction of Jan Shatabi Express between Ernakulam and Trivandrum).
New lines: The railways will lay 214 kms of additional new lines in the current fiscal. The projects include: Buniadpur-Balurghat, Joruli-Keonjhar of Daitari-Banaspani, Kumarghat-Manu of Kumarghat-Agartala, Katra-Faizabad, Daurandha-Maharajganj restoration and Bajkul-Kanthi of Tamluk-Digha.
Computerised ticketing: In addition to the computerised reservations, the railways will now develop a computerised ticketing system under which passengers will be able to buy unreserved tickets even from locations other than the boarding station. The system will be able to issue monthly and quarterly season tickets as well.
Food and water: At a time when the state sector should exit from most business areas, the Indian railways has decided to fight the menace of unhygienic bottled water and low quality food at the stations by entering the arena itself. Railways will, therefore, enter the business of producing its own packaged drinking water and sell it under the brand name Rail Neer. Mineral water plants will be established by the newly set-up Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation.