Railway budget for more fare concessions to senior citizens

The Railway budget for 2011-12 held passenger fares and freight rates for the eighth successive year; proposed further fare concessions to senior citizens, physically challenged and servicemen; announced a plethora of new trains and production units; and promised to fill more than 2,00,000 vacant posts.

To raise money, the Railways have been allowed, for the first time, to issue tax-free bonds to the tune of Rs.10,000 crore in the next financial year, while it will get a fresh budgetary support of Rs.20,000 crore.

Presenting on Friday her third budget in her current term in the Lok Sabha, Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee also talked of a separate fund for the northeast. A Pradhan Mantri Rail Vikas Yojna fund would be set up for socially desirable schemes — as a pilot project, 10,000 shelters would be constructed for those dwelling by the track in Mumbai, Sealdah, Siliguri and Tiruchi.

Sale of e-tickets with lower booking charges, increased Internet access and introduction of a new super air-conditioned class of travel were the other new features of the budget.

The Railways intend to integrate suburban railway networks in large cities like Mumbai, bringing together the suburban, metro and other rail infrastructure under a single system for better performance. A Kolkata Rail Vikas Corporation would be set up on the lines of the Mumbai Rail Vikas Corporation.

When Ms. Banerjee announced the introduction of 135 pairs of new trains, there were protests from the Opposition members as well as from a few from the Congress, who felt that she had done more for West Bengal at the expense of other States. But she stood her ground, saying new trains were given to other States, including Kerala and Gujarat, and a new project was proposed for Manipur. The noisy scenes interrupted the budget presentation for 10-15 minutes.

The budget proposes to lay 40 new lines, covering 1,075 km; double 867 km of track and undertake gauge conversion of 1,017 km and electrification of 1,000 km. All State capitals, except that of Sikkim, would be given rail connection. Anti-collision devices would be commissioned in eight zones and GPS-based ‘fog-safe' devices deployed.

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