Tuesday, February 27, 2001,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Passengers spared, freight hiked by 3 per cent
Essential items exempted, 24 express trains introduced
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 26
Passenger fares have been spared while freight rates have been hiked marginally across the board, barring some essential commodities, to mop up Rs 500 crore in a Railway Budget that preserves Ms Mamata Banerjee’s image as a minister of the masses.

Barring essential commodities like edible salt, grains and pulses, sugar, fruits and vegetables, urea, edible oils, kerosene and cooking gas, freight rates of all commodities have been raised by 3 per cent. Freight rates for coal (not meant for household consumption) and iron and steel is being increased by only 2 per cent. In order to attract more black oil traffic to rail, the increase in furnace oil is proposed to be restricted to 1 per cent.

The price increase, which would become effective from April 1, however, exempts urea, parcels and luggage, newspapers, magazines and medicines.

Apart from the increase in freight rates, Ms Banerjee has relied on better performance in freight and passenger traffic, realisation of dues and earnings from non-traditional sources.

Target for non-traditional sources of earnings have been kept at Rs 1000 crore — Rs 700 crore by way of leasing of ‘right of way’ of optic fibre cables, Rs 200 crore from commercial exploitation of land and Rs 100 crore through commercial publicity.

Ms Banerjee hopes to realise Rs 750 crore in dues from various companies, of which Rs 500 crore would be from the Badarpur Thermal Power Station.

In what appears to be a compromise formula, the Finance Ministry, unlike the last time where it allowed the minister to defer the entire dividend of Rs 1500 crore, has allowed only Rs 1000 crore to be transferred to Deferred Dividend Liability Account while Rs 1352 crore would be paid to General Revenues.

The minister announced continuing the concessional season tickets for people below the poverty line, and extension of concessions to visually handicapped and to mentally handicapped.

Despite the restraint shown in raising additional resources, the Budget has significantly stepped up the annual Plan outlay for the coming year by 11 per cent to Rs 11,090 crore as against Rs 10,002 crore this year without any increase in budgetary support.

Ms Banerjee announced the introduction of 24 new express trains, including Asansol-Jhajha-Amritsar weekly express, and seven Matribhumi Express trains to be run during peak rush season with only second class and second class sleeper coaches.

The frequency of nine trains has been increased and the extension of an equal number of trains announced.

No fresh new line project has been included in the Budget and investment for the existing projects has been hiked by 45 per cent.

The minister said survey during the next financial year would cover 26 segments, including Ferozepour cantonment to Tarn Taran.

Announcing an increase of 39 per cent outlay over the revised estimate to improve passenger amenities, Ms Banerjee said the steps would include fully computerised ticket refunds on all zonal railways; automated teller machines at various important stations which would be later used for issue of tickets also; information to public through cable tv, Internet and cellular phones; ticket retailing at Internet kiosks, and improved facilities like pay-and-use toilets, drinking water etc at stations. The minister announced that 74 more stations would be upgraded as model stations in addition to the existing 210 stations.

Pointing out that the Justice Khanna Committee had recommended an expenditure of Rs 15,000 crore for the rehabilitation of railway assets for safety, Ms Banerjee regretted that efforts to raise the funds from outside the Railways (Finance Ministry) had not materialised. “I am sorry, my speech would be silver but my silence would be golden (on this)” she added.

Declaring that the Railways would not be privatised, the minister lamented that the capital support from the General Exchequer had been declining over the years. From 75 per cent in the Fifth Five Year Plan, it had come down to 42 per cent in the Seventh Plan and 18 per cent in the last two years of the Eighth Plan. Posing a question to the House she asked: “Are we a commercial enterprise only? Or are we a public utility?”

A possible solution, she said could be funding of socially relevant projects by the state and an alternate multi-source fund for remunerative projects.

Freight traffic target has been fixed at 500 million tonnes for 2001-02, from 475 tonnes in the previous year and growth in passenger traffic has been projected to increase by 9 per cent. Other coaching is expected to grow by 8.8 per cent while Sundry Other Earnings from traditional sources have been estimated to rise by 5.4 per cent.

While the net miscellaneous receipt has been fixed at Rs 928 crore, including Rs 300 crore from general revenues for safety works, net railway revenue has been projected at Rs 1683 crore.

‘Excess’ of receipts over expenditure has been worked out to Rs 331 crore falling short of Plan requirement of internal resources by Rs 500 crore.

Market borrowings have been placed at Rs 4000 crore and the balance Rs 3550 crore would be met through combination of normal internal resources, non-traditional revenues and contribution from general revenues for railway safety works.

Allocation for new lines has been increased to Rs 1015 crore from Rs 702 crore while track renewal plan gets Rs 2050 crore against Rs 1633 crore in the previous year.


Following are the highlights of the Railway Budget:

  • No increase in passenger fares
  • Freight hiked by 3%, essential commodities spared
  • Urea exempted from increase
  • Concessions for handicapped extended
  • Freight traffic fixed at 500 MT
  • 24 new express trains announced
  • 7 Matribhumi express trains for peak-rush season
  • Increase in frequency and extension of nine trains each
  • Increased outlay for passenger amenities
  • Railways not to be privatised
  • Tickets through Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) at major railway stations.
  • To provide quicker information through online position of running trains through cable TV, Internet and cellular phones.
  • Internet kiosks for ticket retailing under consideration.



Allies, Cong deplore Budget
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 26
The main Opposition party Congress today made a scathing attack on the Railway Budget presented by Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee terming it as a “tale of woe accompanied by a bagful of excuses” and a “political Budget” aimed at reaping dividends in the coming Assembly elections. Several other parties, including three NDA allies expressed their resentment over the “step-motherly treatment” to their regions.

Former Finance Minister and Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Dr Manmohan Singh, accused the government of “criminal neglect” of safety aspect of the Indian Railways by presenting a Budget which was one of “stagnation”.

The Railway Budget showed that the railway system is heading for a “certain collapse” and “this (NDA) government has no strategy to avert that collapse in terms of both financial management and improvement of safety measures.”

The former Finance Minister said “with a plan outlay of just 11 per cent and the inflation touching 9 per cent, there won’t be any real increase in the planned growth of the Railways.”

Former Railway Minister and Deputy Leader of Congress in the Lok Sabha, Madhavrao Scindia said: “The Budget is a tale of woe accompanied by a bagful of excuses.”

“Instead of having a forward looking and resolved positive spirit, it (Budget) displays a sense of helplessness and despondency,” he said.

Mr Scindia said the Budget presented by Ms Banerjee was a “political Budget”, which was aimed to reap dividends not for the Railways but for a political party.

He said the government was not giving its full attention to the Railways which only utilised one-sixth of the energy per unit traffic moved as compared to road transport.

The Shiv Sena, one of the main allies of the BJP at the Centre, threatened to launch a massive agitation and disrupt Parliament proceedings if the government failed to give an assurance about the speedy completion of railway projects in the Marathwada region of Maharashtra.

“It is pity that despite meeting the Prime Minister once and the Railway Minister twice for the speedy completion of railway projects in the Marathwada region, there is not even a single word in the Budget about the Marathwada region,” senior Shiv Sena leader and MP, Chandrakant Khaire told The Tribune.

“We need concrete assurance about the Railway projects in the Marathwada region, otherwise we would launch a major agitation and even disrupt the proceedings of Parliament,” he said.

Another NDA constituent, the Samata Party, termed the Budget as a “political Budget keeping in view the Bengal elections.”

“There is nothing new in the Budget and it is totally biased towards West Bengal,” Samata Party leader Prabhu Nath Singh said.

However the BJP took exception to the stance of some of the NDA allies who expressed their displeasure with some provisions of the Budget even while Ms Banerjee was speaking. Party spokesman Vijay Kumar Malhotra said the behaviour of some of the allies was inappropriate. “They should have heard the entire speech and then given their views,” he said.

Describing the Budget as “pro-poor,” Mr Malhotra said it was perhaps for the first time that there was no increase in passenger fare for two consecutive years. Essential items had been exempted from the small increase in freight charges, he said.

The BJD, an NDA constituent, also protested against the “step-motherly treatment” to Orissa.

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