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Lalu spares passengers; freight untouched

By P.K. Bhardwaj

  • Railway Budget 2004-2005 Highlights (pdf format)

    NEW DELHI, JULY 6. The Railway Minister, Lalu Prasad, today presented a "people-friendly budget," without increasing the passenger fares and the freight rates, and announced a series of measures and concessions for all sections.

    Unfazed by the Opposition boycott over the issue of the "tainted" Ministers, Mr. Prasad presented the Railway Budget for 2004-05 in the Lok Sabha. He enhanced the burden on railway parcel service users slightly, envisaging an additional Rs. 50 crores in revenue in the remaining part of the current fiscal. Newspaper and magazine transportation rates will, however, remain unchanged. The revised rates will be effective from August 6.

    Mr. Prasad surpassed his predecessor, Nitish Kumar, in announcing new trains and welfare measures. Retaining Mr. Kumar's proposal to introduce 18 `non-stop' Sampark Kranti Express trains to all parts of the country from Delhi, he also announced 14 new trains, extended nine existing services and increased the frequencies of 12 other trains. A massive track construction and gauge conversion programme, put on the backburner for some years, has been revived.

    The Minister also proposed free travel in second class to youth travelling for Central Government employment interviews, free passes to wives of porters, extending the 75 per cent concession to widows of defence personnel killed in action against terrorists (limited now to widows of police and paramilitary personnel) and concessional travel for the escorts of the hearing and speech impaired and haemophilia patients.

    And like his predecessor, he was also `partial' to his home State. If Mr. Kumar sanctioned a captive power plant to Barh, the constituency he represented earlier, Mr. Prasad announced a wheel and axle plant for Chapra, his constituency.

    The Railways' oldest workshop in Jamalpur, Bihar, which had fallen into disrepair with the passing of the steam era, will now construct railway wagons.

    More amenities

    Apart from the new projects, Mr. Prasad's area of focus was on improving passenger amenities. Promising healthier, cleaner and tastier food on trains and in stations, he said milk products such as buttermilk would be promoted in a big way. Already, the use of thermocol and plastic cups has been banned and earthen cups introduced.

    Cleanliness at stations and in trains will be promoted by making employees accountable - commendation for performers and "fixing of responsibility" in case of failure. In order to comply with the Government's vision of eliminating open defecation by 2012, the Railways' Research and Development wing has embarked on an environment-friendly coach toilet discharge system.

    The outlay for improving the passenger amenities is an all time high.

    The Minister made a "special mention" of the feeling of neglect of projects in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh. He promised ample funds for these States and also for West Bengal, Punjab and Orissa where there is a similar perceived sense of neglect.

    Mr. Prasad paid attention to making rail travel safe for women. Lady ticket-checking squads will be deployed in trains wherever required.

    The women's compartments in suburban trains have been declared out-of-bounds for unauthorised vendors. Stickers carrying helpline phone numbers will be prominently displayed in these compartments.

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