K. Balchand

NEW DELHI: Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee has done a good balancing act. Even while keeping her promise of presenting a pro-people budget she has initiated measures for yielding revenue and sustaining the commercial viability of the railways.

She has revisited the Tatkal scheme reducing the time factor and the charges.

To please the youth she has promised a low-cost train; urban women would now have special trains in Delhi, Chennai and Kolkata, and the unorganised labour would be given monthly season tickets of Rs. 25.

She has decided to use for commercial purposes railway land and set up at least 50 multi-functional complexes with shopping facilities, food stalls and budget hotels.

Ms. Banerjee intends to earn a hefty sum for the railways by launching a premium service for container movement, private ownership of special purpose rolling stock for commodities and private operation of freight terminals, mega logistic hubs, and a premium parcel service.

Most of these will be joint ventures in the public private partnership mode. While they will help the railway’s cause, the measures allow private players in the operations. The modalities and the stakes for the private parties will be decided in course of time, officials said.

She is once again seeking to revive her idea of using the optic fibre cable network of the railways and taking information technology to the remote areas. If it fructifies, it would yield considerable revenue.

Moreover, she did not undo most of the other measures that her predecessor had initiated to increase the profitability of the railways.

But no less significant is the fact that she did not touch the passenger and freight rates. Though she did not raise the charges, the fact remains that it is for the first time in six years that these had not been reduced.

Her predecessor had during his five-year tenure reduced passenger fares in each of his five budgets.

Ms. Banerjee’s decision to set up a number of expert committees is also a clear indication of the bigger role that private players will have in shaping the destiny of the Railways.

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