Notwithstanding the far-from-satisfactory financial situation, Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal pulled out quite a few projects from his hat, hinting that populism was unavoidable when you are gearing for the general elections in 2014.
In what may be the last full budget before the elections, Mr. Bansal has sought to target a wide canvas of the country, hoping to win hearts for the Congress and the UPA.
Mr. Bansal has conceded most of the demands by MPs for new trains, proposing to introduce as many as 107 of them, including 67 express trains, 26 passenger services, eight DEMU services and five MEMU services. He has also promised to extend the run of 57 trains and the frequency of 24 other trains.
The new trains include fully air-conditioned trains between Delhi and Mumbai (weekly), Howrah-Chennai (bi-weekly), Howrah-New Jalpaiguri (weekly) and Guwahati-Bangalore (weekly) and New Delhi-Katra (six days a week).
There is a bonanza for Mumbai suburban passengers. A new AC EMU will be introduced in addition to 72 additional services, while Kolkata will get 18 more suburban trains.
The rake length of 80 services will be increased from nine cars to 12 cars in Kolkata while in Chennai the added facility will be provided in 30 services.
As for the projects, the first on the list is the Forged Wheel Factory at Rae Bareli Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s constituency in Uttar Pradesh. The others are a MEMU manufacturing unit at Bhilwara in Rajasthan; a coach manufacturing unit in Sonepat, Haryana; a midlife rehabilitation workshop at Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh; workshop for repair and rehabilitation of motorised bodies at Misrod, Madhya Pradesh; new wagon maintenance workshop in Kalahandi, Orissa; and a modern signalling equipment facility in Chandigarh.
To solve its fuel bill problem, the railways intend to set up a Railway Energy Management Company to harness the potential of solar and wind energy and also help other companies to seek its cooperation in other green field operations.
The railways also hope to set up 75 MW capacity windmill plants with the objective of providing solar power to 1,000 level crossings to improve visibility.
Emphasising the strategically important projects, Mr. Bansal said top priority has been accorded to projects in Jammu and Kashmir; Arunachal Pradesh has been brought under the railway network, which will commissioned soon.
He announced a new line to connect Manipur and speed up gauge conversion work on the Lumding-Silchar and Rangi-Murkongselek sections. Mr. Bansal said he proposed to seek approval for the Bilaspur-Manali-Leh, Jammu-Poonch, Tanakpur-Bageshwar and Parsuramkund-Rupai projects to be included under national importance projects.
The Minister has also proposed a new line between Firozpur and Patti, giving a direct link between the border areas of Firozpur and Amritsar and Atari.
The Rail Land Development Authority and the IR Station Development Corporation have been set targets to raise Rs. 1,000 crore each through commercial activities.