Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee is likely to present a populist budget leaving passenger fares untouched, but rationalising the freight rates keeping the essential commodities aside.

Though the Railway Board is insisting on raising fares keeping the PSU’s financial condition in mind, insiders said the minister is “dead against” carrying out any such revision.

The recession-hit industry may not be as lucky though, the Rail Budget to be tabled on February 24 is likely to rationalise freight rates of certain commodities like iron ore, coal and cement.

But according to sources, Ms. Mamata is unlikely to tinker with the freight rates of essential commodities including foodgrains.

There is a possibility of a minimum 5 to 10 per cent hike in the transportation charge of certain commodities including iron, coal and minerals. The hike in fuel prices is weighing heavily on railways.

“Railway is the only mode of transportation for these commodities but it has resisted from raising freight rates despite the increase in fuel prices substantially,” sources said.

With next year’s West Bengal assembly elections in mind, the minister is expected to announce a slew of Bengal-centric projects, including several new trains to the State.

Ms. Mamata is also likely to announce several pro-farmer initiatives like accelerating Kisan Mission Vision and running rakes with cold storage facility. Several warehouses are expected to come up in major producing states to facilitate seamless movement of farm produce.

The budget is likely to announce formation of an exclusive all-women RPF batallion for ensuring security in ladies compartments and in stations.

Indications are that on-board doctor facility which was operationalised in Duronto non-stop trains could be extended to some other important trains like Rajdhanis.

Introduction of luxury coaches in trains connecting popular tourist destinations and more ticket counters in remote areas are also likely to figure in the budget.

Scores of new trains are on the cards, including the launch of at least a dozen new Durontos in the wake of its growing popularity.

With passenger safety being a top priority for railway in face of repeated train accidents, the budget may also see a substantial hike in corpus fund for enhancing and strengthening tracks and signal system.

The implementation of anti-collision device and train protection warning system will find a mention in the budget.

Special emphasis is likely to be laid on keeping the operating ratio in check. The ratio was 92.5 per cent in the last budget, source said.

Railways is set to get Rs 15,875 crore as Plan allocation from Finance Ministry, an increase of more than 8 per cent against last year.

Giving a thrust to PPP initiative she might also announce several infrastructure projects to be implemented through this mode.

The use of surplus railway land for setting up logistic parks, medical facilities would be the other major highlight.

The budget is likely to focus on cleanliness at platforms and trains and punctuality in service.

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