New Delhi: Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal is set to present what will be the first Railway Budget by a Congress minister in 17 years on Tuesday. Indications are that rail travel is likely to get costlier in line with the fuel price hike.
Before heading to the Rail Bhawan on Tuesday, Pawan Bansal said, "I would want to listen to what people have to say once I have presented the budget."
According to sources, the government is likely to introduce a fuel adjustment component and a passenger amenities cess which will contribute to a hike in fares. The Rail Budget 2013 may not be as populist as the people expect it to be.
The Rail Minister held several round of discussions with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Finance Minister P Chidambaram and the Planning Commission in connection with the Rail Budget. He is also understood have discussed the possibility of fare hike with Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
However, sources said a section of the Congress is not inclined towards effecting another round of fare hike as general elections are not far away. The rising prices are most likely to upset the Opposition, who has been protesting against price rise. Hoping to tackle that smoothly, the UPA will hold a Coordination Committee meet after the Railway Budget to finalise its strategy in Parliament. Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be hearing out alliance partners at the meeting.
But there is good news in the offing. Sources say that an additional Rajdhani is likely to be introduced between Delhi and Mumbai. Two are already running between the two destinations. With Bansal heading Rail Bhavan and the key ministry back with the Congress party after almost one-and-a-half decade, speculation is rife about announcement of 100 new trains including AC double deckers, extension and increase of some popular passenger services.
Also, several railway works could come under the MNREGA, the flagship programme of the UPA which would widen the programme's scope. Reportedly, Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh has accepted this proposal of the Railway Ministry.
Meanwhile, ahead of his maiden Rail Budget, Bansal promised a 24X7 helpline for women that will be tracked real time, with top priority accorded to safety of passengers, especially women. "The safety and security of passengers, especially women, is top priority of the Indian Railways," Bansal told IANS in an interview. "It's not possible to deploy women constables in each of the 51,000 coaches. But soon there would be round-the-clock toll-free helpline for women and this will be tracked on real-time basis."
Bansal is all set to announce a slew of passenger-friendly measures such as improvement in catering service, maintaining cleanliness at rail premises, introducing Braille stickers in coaches for visually-challenged passengers and development of stations in his maiden Rail Budget.
Aiming to put rescue and restoration work on fast track, the Rail Budget 2013-14 is set to announce procurement of two high-speed self-propelled accident relief trains (SPART). With a speed of 160 km/hr, the SPART will enable rescue equipment to reach the accident site faster and help speedy rescue and restoration work.
The Ministry is going ahead with the proposal for setting up Rs 1,000 crore MEMU (Mainline Electric Multiple Unit) coach factory in Rajasthan to cater to the growing demand of faster local and suburban service.
Railways is likely to miss the revenue target of Rs 1.35 lakh crore for the current fiscal as the total earning for the 10 months from April, 2012, to January, 2013, has been Rs 1,01,223 crore, which means it needs to earn Rs 34,000 crore in the next two months to meet the target.
Despite the freight hike in March 2012, Railways is set to miss its freight earning target of Rs 89,339 crore this fiscal as the total goods earnings for the last 10 months from April to January is Rs 70,067.36 crore.
Even the freight loading target of 1,025 million tonnes (MT) is likely to fall short by 15 MT as Railways could transport only 927.90 MT during the last 10 months. The total passenger earnings for the period of 10 months have been Rs 25,924 crore, whereas the target for the current fiscal is Rs 36,000 crore.
Railways, which had got Rs 24,000 crore as general budgetary support (GBS) in the last budget, sought Rs 38,000 crore from the government. It is likely to get about Rs 28,000 crore as GBS in the Rail Budget 2013-14.
The annual plan size of Railways was slashed down to Rs 52,000 crore from Rs 61,000 crore for the year 2012-13 due to the overall cut in the expenditure. The annual plan size may touch Rs 65,000 crore in the next fiscal.
(With additional information from PTI and IANS)