M A I N   N E W S

Rail fares, freight rates untouched
Free travel for jobless youth
* ‘Village-on-Wheels’ planned
Rajeev Sharma and Gaurav Choudhury
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, July 6
Railway Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav today unveiled a politically-correct common man-centric Railway Budget for 2004-05, leaving passenger fares and freight rates untouched and announced several sops for Maharashtra and Bihar where Assembly elections are due in the next six months.

Mr Yadav sought to sugarcoat his budget by focussing on issues that directly affect the passengers encompassing cleanliness, security, catering, recruitment and promised to put in place an environment-friendly toilet system by 2012.

The project is in line with the policy announced by the Ministry of Rural Development, which envisages total sanitation in the next eight years and elimination of open defecation across the country.

Clearly perturbed by the spate of accidents and dacoities (mostly in trains running through his home state) ever since he assumed office, Mr Yadav announced that “passenger security takes precedence over protection of property” and decided to restore the earlier procedure of direct recruitment by the Railway Protection Force (RPF) instead of through the Railway Recruitment Boards.

“This will expedite the availability of manpower and strengthen the Force and speed up the process of filling up of vacancies”, he observed.

The Congress-led UPA Government, in its first Railway Budget and Mr Yadav’s maiden one, has accorded top priority to safety measures including a system of electronic verification of arrival of trains at stations. The Minister said: “The biggest challenge that Indian Railways faces today is ensuring safe transit of passengers.”

Mr Yadav pointed out that the Railways had taken the initiative for providing Train Protection and Warning System to aid the driver.

The system provides a warning to the driver approaching a signal at danger. If the driver fails to react, the system will automatically apply brakes. This proven and fail-safe system is being provided on Southern and North Central Railways on approximately 280-km track. Provision of anti-collision devices has been made on about 1700-km route of the Northeast Frontier Railway and is likely to be completed in 2004-05.

For unemployed youth, who have to criss-cross the country in search of government jobs, the Railway Minister has exempted them from paying fares.” Unemployed youth attending interviews for selection to Central Government jobs will be given full concession in second class on the production of a certified copy of call letter and application”.

Concessions have also been given to widows of defence personnel, escorts of a deaf and dumb person.

Train passengers, who have had to make do with dirty unhygienic platforms, may now look forward to boarding and disembarking in spic and span conditions.

General Managers of all the zones have been directed to take special steps in this direction. And perhaps as an incentive, the Railway Minister has instituted an “inter-division competition in which all the railway divisions will be evaluated” and the best division will be given the “Cleanliness Efficiency Shield”.

Another issue, which most of his predecessors had glossed over, was of the toilet system within the trains. Mr Yadav said that the Indian Railways had taken up the project of developing an environment-friendly coach toilet discharge system which would eliminate the existing system of open defecation by 2012.

Licensed porters have been promised better conditions with the Minister promising a sum of Rs 5 crore to improve their shelters at railway stations.

He has also extended the facility of privelege pass to the spouse of the licensed porters. Earlier, this facility was available only to the porter where he could travel from his station of working to any station on the Indian Railways.

Mr Yadav also announced a proposal to set up an “Unorganised Workers Social Security Fund” which will provide insurance cover to workers in the unorganised sector coming in contact with the Railways such as porters, vendors, hawkers, people working in stalls, cycle stand, construction workers etc.

The scheme offers a health insurance scheme, a personal accident insurance cover of Rs 1 lakh and a minimum old age pension of Rs 500 per month. Mr Yadav justified the much-hyped introduction of “kulhars” (earthen cups) in place of plastic and thermocol cups on grounds of its better employability in the rural sector.

In contrast to the “Palace on Wheels” and “Royal Orient” trains meant for upper-end tourists, Mr Yadav announced the introduction of “Village-on-Wheels” — a tourist train for the common man. Under this scheme, tourist special trains will run to a pre-determined schedule. These trains will collect the tourists from a region and take them to important religious and historical places at affordable cost. The Minister said no such facility was available so far for the common people, particularly from small towns and villages.

The Rail Budget proposed new schemes for transportation of milk, vegetables and fruits. The Railways will encourage a higher level of movement of milk by tankers from various regions. As milk is a perishable commodity, these tankers will be attached to suitable trains. To provide better services for transportation of fruits, vegetables and other perishable commodities, more refrigerated parcel vans will be introduced.

Mr Yadav also unveiled a new bookstall policy for Indian Railways which does away with the system of the sole selling rights and provides for a uniform tenure of five years. It provides 25 per cent reservation for allotment of bookstalls for SC/ST/OBC, minorities, war widows, those below the poverty line, physically-challenged individuals and Railway employees’ widow on B, C and D class stations. Also, unemployed graduates and their associations besides philanthropic organisations can get allotment on B, C and D class stations.

However, contrary to expectations, there were no sops for journalists in Mr Yadav’s budget who had promised free passes to accredited journalists in his maiden press conference after taking over office. At present, accredited journalists are given 50 per cent fare concession on all but Rajdhani and Shatabdi trains.

Mr Yadav, however, gave one point to the Opposition to criticise the government as he announced an increase of 7 per cent to 33 per cent in the rates for booking of parcels in all category of trains and abolished the E-category of parcel rates. He also announced reduction in the scales of charging parcels from four to three per cent. The new rates of parcel will be effective from August 6 and will yield an additional revenue of Rs 50 crore.

Parcel rates for Rajdhani Express were increased by around 7.1 per cent but in notified trains, parcel rates were sharply increased by more than 30 per cent. Similarly, parcel rates through special trains were also increased sharply.

Mr Yadav also proposed that all types of special trains, including millennium parcel trains, will be charged at the second category instead of third category. With the reduction in total number of rate scales, the ratio between the highest scale rates and the lowest rates will be reduced from 6.2 to 3 per cent.

Parcel rates for newspapers and magazines were increased marginally for certain distances.

On the huge one million tonnes of metallic scrap which the Indian Railways sells every year, Mr Yadav said “I have now decided to explore the possibility of in-house utilisation of this scrap by recycling it instead of selling it to outside parties, subject to a detailed examination of the logistics, cost-benefit analysis.”

The Railways will refund unused reserved and RAC tickets up to five days from the scheduled departure of the train from its originating station.

  • Passenger fares, freight rates untouched.

  • 15 additional express trains to be introduced apart from 17 Sampark Kranti Express trains announced in the interim Budget.

  • 75 per cent concession in second and sleeper classes to widows of defence personnel killed in action against terrorists/extremists.

  • Total plan outlay pegged at Rs 14,498 crore

  • Special tankers for milk

  • Full concession in second class to unemployed youth going for interviews in Central Government jobs.

  • Nominal increase in parcel rates in different categories; revised rates to be effective from August 6, 2004.


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