Nitish gives sops in poll year
New Delhi, January 30
Mr Kumar, who presented in Parliament what is probably the second Interim Rail Budget in the history of independent India (the last time being in 1996 when Mr Suresh Kalmadi presented the interim rail budget), announced an ambitious Rs 20,000-crore scheme “Remote Area Rail Sampark Yojana” for funding several socio-economic projects and completing them in five years.
Though the Minister did not give details of the funding of the projects to be covered under this scheme, political sources told “The Tribune” that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had assured Mr Kumar of making available the necessary resources in due course. It is understood that the government may launch another Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to take care of this on the pattern of the existing one for the execution of the National Rail Vikas Yojana.
The Railways have a large shelf of over 230 projects for the construction of new lines, gauge conversion, doubling, electrification and metropolitan transport projects.
“Even with the enhanced budgetary support, non-budgetary initiatives under the National Rail Vikas Yojana and other cost sharing mechanisms apart from the defence funding of some projects of strategic importance, there will still be projects valuing Rs 20,000 crore which would remain unfinished even after the next five years,” the Minister said and admitted that the progress on these projects “is very slow”.
The execution of the projects for the remote regions would provide employment opportunities to three lakh persons every year during the construction period.
Significantly, the Railway Minister used the phrase “employment opportunities” and not “jobs” and the sources in the Ministry of Railways explained that this was because it was not advisable to further increase the salary burden of the already overstaffed Ministry. As it is, the Ministry’s annual burden on the pension account is a whopping Rs 6,000 crore.
While last year Mr Kumar had announced 50 new trains- most of which are operational by now-the Minister this time announced a new series of fast trains named as “Sampark Kranti Express”. These 18 new trains would be introduced to connect states to the national capital and would have such value-added features as non-stop run beyond the state, dedicated staff throughout the run and public address system.
Political sources said this was an administrative compulsion for the Minister as the road sector had expanded phenomenally in the past few years and threatened to snatch a sizable business from the Railways in the coming years in view of the Prime Minister’s special emphasis on highways with such schemes as the Golden Quadrilateral highway project and the North-South East-West Corridors.
Also reflected in Mr Kumar’s budget is India’s super-power stature in IT as the minister announced the introduction of train reservations through mobile phones. The Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) have developed technical ability to enable cell phone operators to integrate their system with the Railways. All cell phone operators will be provided the facility to integrate their system with the Railways to enable the passengers to book tickets through their cellphones.
To encourage frequent travellers of the Rajdhani, Shatabdi and Jan Shatabdi trains, Mr Kumar announced novel incentives on the pattern of airline industry’s “frequent flier” programme. The scheme will be available to those travelling by first AC, second AC and chair car categories and will reward such rail travellers on the basis of journeys performed by them in a one-year period. The traveller willing to avail of the scheme will be registered and be eligible for an additional complimentary trip after he has performed the requisite number of journeys.
The Jammu-Udhampur New Line Project, nearing completion and to be completed before the target date, will be opened to traffic on March 25 this year. A new Uttar Sampark Kranti Express would be introduced between Delhi and Udhampur to cater for Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana.
The Interim Railway Budget for 2004-05 has sought a Vote-on-Account of over Rs 26,000.96 crore for the first four months of the next financial year.
Mr Kumar requested Parliament to vote four months’ supplies representing one-third of the total estimated expenditure included in the demands for grants for 2004-05 pending detailed consideration and passing. The Vote-on-Account of over Rs 26,000 crore is against the total demand for the next fiscal of RS 80,000.61 crore. Of this, repairs and maintenance of permanent way and works accounts for Rs 1,121 crore, operating expenses on rolling stock and equipment Rs 938 crore, traffic Rs 2953 crore and fuel Rs 2,760 crore.
Earlier, the presentation of the budget was delayed by about 25 minutes as members of Congress, Left parties, Samajwadi Party, RJD and Republican Party walked out of the Lok Sabha shortly before its presentation. The Opposition members were protesting against the Chair’s “failure” to mention Mahatma Gandhi’s name while paying homage to freedom fighters on the martyrs’ day.
The agitated members stormed the well immediately after the obituary reference was made by Speaker Manohar Joshi and joined slogan-shouting BSP members who were demanding the resignation of the Samajwadi Party government in Uttar Pradesh for its decision to abolish nine districts in the state.
Later, Mr Kumar laid a copy of the
Interim Rail Budget in the Rajya Sabha.