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Trivedi’s rail fare hike triggers political storm
Govt in a fix as ally Trinamool joins Oppn to slam Rail Budget
Girja Shankar Kaura/TNS

New Delhi, March 14
Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi today announced an increase of 2 paise per km to 30 paise/km in passenger rail fares across various categories, choosing to tread a path his predecessors, including his own party chief Mamata Banerjee, had avoided for a decade.

The proposals led to a political storm as angry Banerjee sought her own Trinamool colleague’s scalp amid rising criticism of the hike. The Trinamool Congress chief said she was not informed about the impending passenger fare hike.

in the region >>>

Guru Parikarma (Amritsar-Hazur Sahib, Nanded) Express introduced for Sikh pilgrims.
The New Delhi-Ludhiana Shatabdi Express extended up to Moga.
No station in the state included on the ‘Adarsh’ list.

New rail line from Rohtak to Hansi via Meham
Two new daily passenger trains between Panipat-Rohtak and Rewari-Phulhera
Passenger train from Jind and Sirsa up to Hisar;
Rewari-Degana passenger train extended up to Jodhpur.

Jammu & Kashmir
Fresh lines on the Udhampur/Katra-Doda-Bhadarwah, Doda-Kishtwar and Bilaspur-Leh (via Kullu and Manali) sections.
Nod to completion of Udhampur-Katra and Qazigund-Banihal line projects by 2012-13.

Himachal pradesh
Delhi-Una Himachal Express and Nangal Dam-Una Himachal passenger train extended till Amb-Andoura.
Proposals for the Baddi-Kalka, Bilaspur-Leh via Kullu-Manali, Ghanauli-Baddi, Ghanauli-Dehradun via Baddi-Nalagarh-Jagadhri-Surajpur and Kala Amb-Paonta Sahib railway lines sent to the Planning Commission.

As the Railway Minister proposed the first increase in passenger fares in nine years and the highest ever annual plan outlay for the railways at Rs 60,100 crore, of which Rs 15,000 crore he said, would be from market borrowings, his focus, he said, was three-pronged: “Safety, safety, safety”. Following very closely behind were consolidation, decongestion and modernisation.

Trivedi announced starting of 96 new passenger trains in his 105-minute maiden budget speech and promised the highest spending on projects worth Rs 60,100 crore. He also announced the extension of 39 trains besides increase in the frequency of 23 trains. He said these measures were aimed at rationalising fares to cause "minimal impact" to the common man and "to keep the burden within tolerance limits in general".

"I am asking an extra 2 paise/km on suburban and ordinary second class and an increase of 3 paise/km for mail and express trains," Trivedi said, listing what would be the first fare hike since 2002-03.

"For sleeper class, I am asking only 5 paise (increase) and for AC chair car and III tier, only 10 paise/km, and for AC II tier 15 paise/km and AC I class by 30 paise/km," he said in the Lok Sabha.

After the hike, a 100-km journey would cost Rs 2 more on suburban and ordinary II class trains, Rs 5 in sleeper class, Rs 10 in AC chair car and III tier, Rs 15 in AC II tier and Rs 30 in AC first class. Platform tickets would cost Rs 5 as against Rs 3 currently.

The hike in passenger fares would bring in Rs 4,000 crore for the railways that has been witnessing a steady decline in the working ratio. “The proposed revisions will have a marginal impact on fares. These do not even cover fully the impact of increase in fuel prices during the last eight years," he said.

“I am keeping the valuable passengers of Indian Railways insulated from the burden of increasing staff cost.”

India's railway network is the world’s second largest, but years of low investment and populist policies have crimped growth and hindered private investment in a sector seen as crucial to the country's economic expansion.

"There has been considerable criticism of the Indian Railways in regard to only partial implementation, or some times, no implementation of the recommendation of several committees set up in the past," Trivedi said. "We need a system that delivers," Trivedi said. India planned to add 700 km of rail lines to its network in the fiscal year starting in April, Trivedi said.

The minister stressed on the need to improve the safety of the railways. Trivedi said he was not satisfied with current safety standards and his emphasis would be on improving these. He proposed setting up of a Railway Safety Authority, as he referred to the word safety some 40 times in his speech.

"After an accident in Uttar Pradesh soon after I took over the ministry, I took a vow to target zero deaths eliminate recurrence of such painful happenings. I decided my entire emphasis would be on strengthening safety, safety and safety. Deaths on rail tracks can never be tolerated and are not acceptable," he said.

Other highlights of the budget proposals are AC lounges and escalators at key stations, regional cuisine at affordable rates, book-a-meal over SMS, bio-toilets in 200 trains and coin-operated ticket vending machines.

The minister listed four other focus areas in the next five years: consolidation, de-congestion and capacity augmentation of the network, modernisation and bringing down the operating ratio. He also stressed on better hygiene and high speed trains.

Trivedi said he was looking at the current budget not as an exercise for the next fiscal alone, but also for the entire Five Year Plan, drawing from Mamata Banerjee’s Vision 2020 document. He said it was time for a national policy on railways on the lines of those for defence and foreign affairs.

The Indian Railways will invest Rs 7.35 lakh crore during the 12th Five Year Plan period (2012-17) against Rs.1.92 lakh crore as of now. By then, the Railways would double its contribution to India's gross domestic product to 2%.




Trivedi set to go after Mamata writes to PM
Anita Katyal
Our Political Correspondent

New Delhi, March 14
In an unprecedented move, Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi was all set to lose his job barely hours after he presented his maiden budget when he fell foul of his party leader Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee over his decision to go in for a fare hike.

Presenting a fresh crisis for the beleaguered UPA government, Mamata Banerjee sent a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh late tonight asking him to remove Dinesh Trivedi and replace him with TMC leader Mukul Roy.

UPA sources said the PM would have no choice but to accept the TMC supremo’s request as it is the prerogative of an alliance partner to name its ministers.

Mamata’s missive has not only put renewed strain on the already tenuous relationship between the Congress and the TMC, it also raised serious questions about the legitimacy of the Rail Budget as the minister who presented it finds himself on his way out.

The government was clearly in a fix as Mamata’s decision could spell trouble for the survival of the UPA government. It called an emergency meeting of the Congress core committee, headed by party president Sonia Gandhi, at the PM’s residence late tonight to take stock of the fast-paced developments.

UPA sources indicated that a final view on this entire issue would be taken after the presentation of the General Budget on Friday.

Even as the mercurial Mamata Banerjee plied fresh pressure on the Congress-led UPA government, the DMK was also quick to corner the ruling coalition. Having already embarrassed the ruling combine in Parliament on the Lankan Tamil issue, its party supremo M Karunanidhi said tonight that the party would take a fresh look at supporting the UPA government if it failed to back a UN resolution on human rights in Sri Lanka.

The government has been at the receiving end of its allies ever since the budget session commenced three days ago. Mamata Banerjee had earlier blocked the Lokpal Bill and forced the Centre to backtrack on its decision to allow FDI in retail and to set up National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC).

To make matters worse, the government found itself on slippery ground after the TMC even moved an amendment to the President’s address seeking the deletion of a paragraph on the NCTC.

The DMK also moved an amendment on the plight of the Lankan Tamils. The UPA government would be endangered if these amendments are carried.

In an effort to reduce its dependence on Mamata Banerjee’s 19 Lok Sabha MPs, the Congress is reaching out to the Samajwadi Party which has 22 members. As a step in that direction, AICC treasurer Moti Lal Vora and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal have been deputed to represent the party and government at Akhilesh Yadav’s swearing-in ceremony in Lucknow tomorrow.

Today’s drama unfolded minutes after Trivedi completed his budget speech in the Lok Sabha as the strongest opposition to his budget proposals came from his own party colleagues.

Led by senior TMC leaders Sudeep Bandopadhyay and Derek O’Brien, they trooped into his Parliament House office to express their displeasure over the increase in fares and demanded a rollback while a thundering TMC chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee declared in Nandigram that she did not favour the fare hike and would not allow it.

Speaking to mediapersons later, Bandhopadhyay said that TMC MPs had met Trivedi and urged him to reconsider his proposals. “The Railway Minister is from our party. It is his prerogative to increase fares but we have given him time to withdraw the hike,” he said adding that their party had “never put any burden on the poor.”

The man in the eye of the storm - Dinesh Trivedi - justified the nominal price hike stating firmly that he had done what was required to be done for the betterment of the country and Indian Railways as the cash-strapped organisation was in desperate need of funds.





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