New Delhi: While Pawan Kumar Bansal spared passengers another hike in basic train fares while presenting the Railway Budget for 2013-14 but he still made sure that anyone travelling on a train will be forced to pay more as he announced a "marginal" increase in other charges on tickets along with freight tariff, which he claimed would be less than five per cent.
Even as he diagnosed the problems plaguing the Indian Railways correctly and said that his budget would focus on financial sustainability of the organisation and ensure that trains become better and safer; he failed to come up with solutions and stuck to a script which has been the hallmark of the last several railway budgets. Bansal did not touch passenger fares which had been hiked in January 2013 for the first time after 10 years and announced a marginal increase in freight charges, supplementary charge, superfast charge, reservation charge, clerkage charge, cancellation charge and Tatkal charge.
He said he does not intend to pass on the impact of deregulation of diesel price for now and the Railways will absorb a burden of Rs 850 crore on account of this. Bansal adopted Fuel Adjustment Component introduced by former Trinamool Minister Dinesh Trivedi which will be dynamic in nature and change in either direction with revision in fuel cost twice a year. He said this may result in an upward revision of freight tariff, effective from April 1, this year, by less than 5 per cent.
Bansal, however, proposed to abolish the concept of enhanced reservation fee with a view to simplifying the fee structure, having already discontinued development charge in January 2013. In January, the minister effected an across-the-board hike in passenger fares that would net Rs 6,600 crore a year. However, the subsequent hike in diesel price and electricity charges put an additional burden of Rs 3,300 crore on the railways which is projected to see a loss of Rs 24,600 crore in the current financial year, up from Rs 22,500 crore in 2011-12 in passenger traffic segment.
Beginning the Railway Budget speech, the first by a Congress minister in 17 years, by announcing that the time had come to make the organisation financially sustainable and claiming that the losses were mounting, Bansal said that the gigantic network must be in a better financial health for the benefit of the passengers and to ensure that the modernisation projects are on track. "The rail network needs to be expanded at a faster rate. The freight and passenger fares have to be based on economic realities. The growth of railways is linked to the growth of country," he said. The minister said that the estimated losses of the Railways stood at Rs 24,000 crore in 2012-13.
Expressing grief over the Allahabad railway station stampede, in which many Kumbh pilgrims lost their lives, Bansal said that government would take significant measures to prevent accidents. "Anti-collision devices will be put to rigorous trials, 10,797 unmanned level crossing will be eliminated and no new unmanned level crossings will be set up. Fire retardant materials will be used in coaches and a new SPART train, i.e. self-propellant accident relief train will be introduced," Bansal said.
In order to make the trains more technology- and user-friendly, Bansal said that free Wi-Fi facility would be provided in select trains. SMS alerts service will be rolled out in some time to intimate passengers about their reservation status. Bansal also said that the Railways would use Aadhar database for bookings and validation of passengers.
Bansal also announced the introduction of 27 new passenger trains and 67 Express trains, while adding that 58 trains will be extended. He also announced more trains to religious destinations. A single rail-bus ticket will be issued for Katra-Vaishnodevi pilgrims. He said that special A/C coaches 'Anubhuti' will be introduced in select Shatabdi and Rajdhani trains to give "excellent ambience with commensurate fare".
With any eye to improving revenues and Railway tourism, the Railway Minister announced the 'Azadi Express' that will link all the places related to the freedom movement. The fares in the train will be concessional. Also the mountain rails will receive fresh attention and Bansal said they will be developed along the lines of trains in the Austrian and the Swiss Alps.
The Railways will also upgrade its website, said Bansal, as he admitted that it caused inordinate delays. Bansal said the Ministry will put in place a "next-generation e-ticketing system". In this system, up to 7,260 tickets can be issued per minute. The capacity of the present website is only 2,000 tickets per minute. Bansal also announced that Internet booking will be provided from 12.30 am to 11.30 pm now. Also a Centralized Catering Services Monitoring Cell will be set up with a toll free number - 1800 111 321. As many as 1.2 lakh users can access tickets simultaneously under the proposed upgraded system against 40,000 now.
Speaking on measures on women's safety, Bansal said that a helpline number will be introduced and Railway Protection Force (RPF) guards will be deployed in trains. He added that more women will be recruited to the RPF. He also said there will be ladies special trains in metros.
Regarding the almost poor levels of hygiene in trains, Bansal said that the government was looking to introduce food testing labs and ISO certification for the Railway kitchens. He, however, did not mention anything about toilets.
Bansal also said that the Railways will seek to fill 1.2 lakh vacancies in the network this year. "Around 47,000 vacancies for weaker sections and physically challenged will be filled up soon," he added.
The Railway Minister further announced new coach manufacturing and maintenance facilities in various places including Raebareli, Bhilwara, Sonepat, Kalahandi, Kolar, Palakkad and Pratapgarh. Announcing another milestone for Indian Railways, Bansal added that the Indian Railways was set to enter the 1 billion tonne freight club of China, Russia and US.
The Budget Estimates for 2013-14 has fixed a freight loading target of 1,047 MT, 40 MT more than the previous year. Passenger growth has been estimated at 5.2 per cent and gross traffic receipts at Rs 1,43,742 crore, an increase of Rs 18,062 crore over the revised estimates of the current year. Ordinary working expenses have been placed at Rs 96,500 crore.
Appropriation to Depreciation Reserve Fund has been pegged at Rs 7,500 crore and Pension Fund at Rs 22,000 crore. Dividend Payment has been estimated at Rs 6, 249 crore. Operating ration is expected to improve by one per cent to 87.8 per cent and fund balance to exceed Rs 12,000 crore. Annual Plan for Railways for the coming year has been fixed at Rs 63,363 crore, the largest ever, with Gross Budgetary Support of Rs 26,000 crore.
Allocation for Railway Safety Fund has been fixed at Rs 2,000 crore while internal resources have been estimated at Rs 14,260 crore. As part of extra budgetary resources, market borrowing has been pegged at Rs 15,103 crore while public-private partnership will yield Rs 6,000 crore.
Bansal said the proposal for setting up of Railway Tariff Regulatory Authority has been formulated and was at the stage of inter-ministerial consultations. It also contains a slew of concessions like complimentary passes to recipients of Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna and Dhyan Chand awards in First Class and 2nd AC and Olympic medallists and Dronacharya awardees in Rajdhani and Shatabdi trains.
Touching on financial performance for 2012-13, Bansal said loading target has been revised to 1,007 Million Tonnes against 1,025 MT in budget estimates due to economic slowdown. Gross Traffic Receipts have been fixed at Rs 1,25,680 crore in revised estimates, short by Rs 6,872 crores over Budget estimates.
Ordinary Working Expenses have been retained at Budget Estimate level of Rs 84,400 crores, while pension payments have increased by Rs 1,500 crore to Rs 20,000 crores. Dividend liability to the government has been fully discharged. The Budget shows an 'excess' of Rs 10,409 crores as against the Budget amount of Rs 15,557 crores. Loan of Rs 3,000 crore taken in the current year has been fully repaid along with interest. Operating Ratio has been recorded at 88.8 per cent, as compared to 94.9 per cent in 2011-12.
Inducting fiscal discipline, the Railway Minister said no supplementary demands for grants will be introduced in the monsoon or winter sessions of Parliament and 347 projects have been prioritised with assured funding.
A new Debt Service Fund will be set up to meet committed liabilities and a target of creating a fund balance of Rs 30,000 crore in the terminal year of the 12th Plan has been fixed.
As many as 72 additional suburban services will be introduced in Mumbai and 18 in Kolkata. There are plans to introduce first AC EMU rake in the Mumbai suburban network in the coming financial year. Rake length has been increased from nine to 12 car for 80 services in Kolkata and 30 in Chennai.
The Budget proposes 500 km of new lines, doubling of 750 km and gauge conversion of 450 km. Arunachal Pradesh will have the first ever rail link in the coming year, Bansal announced.
While the government was all praises for the Rail Budget presented by Pawan Kumar Bansal on Tuesday, the Opposition slammed it as an anti-BJP states Budget, with Gopinath Munde even going to the extent of calling it a "Rae Bareli budget". "There is nothing for Gujarat, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Bihar in the Budget," said the BJP. The four states have BJP-led governments.
Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav called it "the worst and the most anti-people budget in many years". "I have no problems with Amethi-Rae Bareli getting anything, but why discriminate against other districts in the state. Not a single line in the Etawah, Mainpuri, Etah, Kannauj belt! They have been discriminatory. No other Rail Minister has unleashed such wrath on the floor of the House as this one."
The Congress, however, was quick to praise the Budget. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Bansal had done a commendable job. "It is a reformist and forward looking Budget which presents a realistic picture of railway finances. I compliment him for his innovations in critical areas of railway infrastructure and paving the way for capacity expansion."
Union minister Kapil Sibal said, "I commend the Budget and the Railway Minister. It is a very practical budget."
(With additional information from PTI)