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New Railway Minister Pawan Bansal hints at possible fare hike

NEW DELHI: New Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal on Monday gave ample hint of a possible passenger fare hike to improve services in the railways.

“Fare will not be increased for the sake of increasing fare. If fare will be increased, then it will be for providing better services to the passengers,” Bansal said when asked whether passenger fares will be hiked in the near future.

“The improvement in services will have to be commensurate with the increase in fare,” he said after assuming charge at Rail Bhawan in New Delhi.

At present, the Railways is facing financial crunch and funds earmarked for many of the ongoing projects are being curtailed.

Justifying the need for such step, the Railway Minister said, “We have to ensure that the vast infrastructure of the railways does not collapse and stop functioning... so we have to increase fares and assure the public that if there will be any hike, the public will also appreciate it because we are going to improve the services.”

However, he did not go into the nitty-gritty of a possible passenger fare hike. “I have just assumed charge... I will discuss the issue threadbare.”

New Minister of State for Railways Adheer Kumar Choudhury, who also assumed charge, favoured a hike in passenger fares.

“Prices have increased in every area... so why not in the Railways. Common people will not oppose it (fare hike) if services will be proper,” said the West Bengal Congress leader and a known critic of TMC chief Mamata Banerjee.

Choudhury said, “Rail services have fallen in the last few years. There are increasing number of complaints with regard to the services. Safety and security is a big concern for the Railways and I think these areas need attention.”

On the issue of Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC), Bansal said, “We have to expeditiously work on DFC as it will benefit the people. All the regions of the country will get their due from the Railways.”

He also promised to improve the ticket reservation system to ensure genuine passengers get confirmed tickets.

“We will try to improve the ticket reservation process with the help of technology so that there is less problem in getting tickets,” he said.

Emphasising on the need safety and security, Bansal said, “We are aware of the fact that the primary concern is the safety of passengers. We have to do our best to ensure security of the passengers. Cleanliness is also important besides punctuality. We have to give a clean environment in the trains.”

Bansal said, “It is our endeavour to strengthen the physical and financial position of the Railways. We have to move with the times.” — PTI





PM's new-look team takes charge; Reddy 'unhappy'

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's new-look team got down to work on Monday with new ministers taking charge and old ones relinquishing responsibilities after a mega revamp of the council of ministers that saw 17 new faces and many key ministries changing hands.

The major shake-up of the government on Sunday, possibly the last before the 2014 general elections, saw Salman Khurshid taking over as India's new Foreign Minister, Pawan Kumar Bansal becoming the new man at the helm of the Railways Ministry, M Veerappa Moily being given Petroleum and MM Pallam Raju appointed Human Resource Development Minister.

Soon after taking charge of his ministry, Moily said he would work to turn the challenges faced by the oil sector into opportunities.

"Average worldwide oil consumption is 14 barrels per person per year, while in developing countries it is three barrels per person per year. In India, the picture is not so happy, with a consumption of 1.2 barrels per person per year. This is a matter of concern," he said.

S Jaipal Reddy got Science and Technology, but reports suggested that he was unhappy over his removal from the Oil Ministry. Kamal Nath got additional charge of Parliamentary Affairs besides Urban Development.

Amongst the Ministers of State sworn in were Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari who got independent charge of Information and Broadcasting. Earlier with Ambika Soni, the ministry has been downgraded.

Jyotiraditya Scindia took over as the new Minister of State with independent charge of the Power Ministry.

"It is a daunting challenge, and I look forward to the support and guidance of ministry officials and colleagues in other departments," the young MP from Madhya Pradesh told reporters.

Describing the power sector as "extremely strategic and important" for the nation's economy, Scindia said: "It is a very important ministry and it is a very big challenge, a very big charge."

The rejig exercise that sought to jettison perception of passivity in governance comes just ahead of two critical Assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat.

"It is a combination of youth and experience," Manmohan Singh said on Sunday after the ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan where President Pranab Mukherjee administered the oath of office.

"The road ahead is full of challenges," he said, expressing hope that this was the last such exercise before his UPA-II government heads for elections.

Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi did not join the government, leaving the field open for him to play a larger role in the party.

Seventeen new faces were inducted Sunday of which two ministers were of Cabinet rank.

Of the seven new ministers sworn in with Cabinet rank, two are debutants — former Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairperson K Rahman Khan and Congress MP Chandresh Kumari Katoch. The other five — Ajay Maken, MM Pallam Raju, Dinsha Patel, Harish Rawat and Ashwini Kumar — have been elevated to Cabinet rank.

Fifteen Ministers of State were also sworn in. — IANS





Chidambaram unveils 5-year roadmap for fiscal consolidation

NEW DELHI: Worried over high budget deficit derailing growth, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram on Monday unveiled a five-year road map for fiscal consolidation to promote investments, contain inflation and take India to high growth trajectory. 

The government, the minister said, will continue efforts to restrict fiscal deficit in the current financial year to 5.3 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and reduce it to 3 per cent by 2016-17. The fiscal deficit was 5.8 per cent in 2011-12. 

“As fiscal consolidation takes place and investors’ confidence increases, it is expected that the economy will return to the path of high investment, higher growth, lower inflation and long-term sustainability”, he said. 

Economic growth slipped to nine-year low of 6.5 per cent in 2011-12 and it is expected to fall further this fiscal. 

Referring to fiscal consolidation in 2012-13, Chidambaram expressed the confidence that government would be able to raise Rs 30,000 crore from disinvestment and Rs 40,000 crore from sale of spectrum. 

As regards the revenue targets, he said, “every effort will also be made to realise the revenue budgeted under tax receipts. Government also expects to be able to contain and economise on expenditure, both on Plan and non-Plan side. 

“While funds will be made available for essential expenditure, especially capital expenditure, every effort will be made to avoid parking or idling of funds,” he said. 

The government had budgeted the fiscal deficit for 2012-13 at 5.1 per cent. However, as per the consolidation roadmap, it is expected to be 5.3 per cent of GDP. 

Chidambaram said, “5.1 per cent was very challenging. After looking at all the factors we think 5.3 per cent is do—able and we intend to work hard and achieve that. 

“This plan is necessary, this plan must be implemented and government is very serious about implementing this fiscal consolidation plan.” 

The roadmap follows the recommendation of the Vijay Kelkar-headed committee which had suggested that the government should undertake reform initiatives, go ahead with disinvestments and reduce subsidies, without which fiscal deficit could shoot up to 6.1 per cent in 2012—13. 

Chidambaram said the government is determined to address the twin challenges of current account deficit (CAD) and fiscal deficit. 

He said the CAD is expected to come down to $70.3 billion or 3.7 per cent of GDP in the current fiscal, from $78.2 billion or 4.2 per cent in 2011-12. 

“Government is confident that the CAD will be fully financed by capital inflows, and expects that a substantial part of it will be in the form of Foreign Direct Investments (FDI), foreign institutional investment (FII) and External Commercial Borrowings (ECBs),” Chidambaram said. 

When asked about the introduction of the amended Direct Taxes Code (DTC) Bill, Chidambaram said, it is under review and would be presented to Parliament after taking into account the recommendations of the Standing Committee. 

“A quick review of DTC Bill will be done. We are looking at the Bill that was introduced, at the standing committee’s recommendations. We are also looking at current economic situation and therefore final version of bill that will be introduced in Parliament will reflect all these. By and large we will have to abide by Standing Committee recommendations,” he said. — PTI





Hurricane Sandy: Jet cancels flights, AI flights delayed

NEW DELHI: Jet Airways on Monday cancelled its flights to Newark and Air India “indefinitely delayed” those to New York and Newark due to Hurricane Sandy which is set to hit the East Coast of the United States. 

These are among more than 6,000 flights that have been cancelled across cities on the East Coast due to the hurricane even as 370,000 people were evacuated from New York City. 

Jet Airways cancelled its flights 9W 227 and 9W 228, operating between Brussels and Newark, on Monday, an airline spokesperson said, adding that the same flights scheduled on October 30 and 31 would be affected. 

The private carrier has offered passengers to change their plans as required, without any penalty for the affected flights only. 

“Guest booked on these delayed/scheduled change flights, can re-book themselves into alternative flights (with an allowance of one date/time change without penalty) by contacting the Contact Centre or their agent(s),” the spokesperson said. 

Air India spokesperson said the airline’s AI 191 Mumbai-Newark and AI 101 Delhi-New York have been “indefinitely delayed” due to the hurricane. 

Passengers have been informed and transit passengers have been provided hotel accommodation in Delhi, the spokesperson said. 

Expected to strike tonight with a gusty wind and heavy rainfall, the hurricane is likely to create havoc in major parts of the United States in its East Coast -- from North Carolina to New England as far west as the Great Lakes. 

US President Barack Obama has declared emergency in a number of states including New York, New Jersey, Virginia, District of Columbia and Massachusetts. 

Government offices and schools have been closed and people from low lying areas have been asked to evacuate, as the hurricane is expected to bring potentially life-threatening storm surges on the coast ranging from several feet to potentially as high as 11-feet in the coastal areas. 

The metro systems of several cities including that of Washington DC, the national capital, Philadelphia and New York, which has the world’s largest rapid transit system, have been closed. 

The United Nations headquarters in New York too have been shut down for two days. — PTI





Sourav Ganguly bids adieu to IPL

KOLKATA: Four years after he announced his retirement from International cricket, former Indian skipper Sourav Ganguly has called it quits from all levels of the game, deciding not to play in the IPL as well.

The former India opener had continued playing first-class cricket for Bengal so as to keep in shape for his franchise Pune Warriors but after last year’s debacle, Ganguly has at last decided against it.

“I will be almost 41 by the time IPL-6 ends. Twenty20 is a very demanding format. It would have been very tough for the body,” Ganguly said.

The left-hander also said he had made his intention clear to Pune’s officials during the last edition itself.

“To captain in IPL, there is a lot of responsibility. You are answerable to many questions. It’s better to captain the country. At least, nobody would phone you and ask what went wrong,” he said.

“I had a wonderful time playing in the IPL for five seasons. It gave me a chance to keep playing top-class cricket even after quitting international cricket. But I can’t go on forever, and I have requested the franchise owners not to consider me for IPL-6.”

Asked whether coaching was on his agenda, Ganguly replied, “There is a long time left to become a coach.

“Even if anyone approaches me to turn up as a player I won’t agree this time. There is no question of playing anywhere if I’m not playing in Pune. If I don’t play IPL, I won’t play for Bengal as well.”

“It is tough to play a whole season of first-class cricket when you know that you are not going to play for India. I kept playing first-class cricket because you cannot just turn up for IPL without any sort of preparation,” he said.

About the future of Bengal cricket, Ganguly said: “Bengal cricket is in good hands. It is good to see the likes of Manoj (Tiwary), Wriddhiman (Saha), (Ashok) Dinda, (Mohammad) Shami and Anustup (Majumdar) knocking hard on the selectors’ door. I wish them all the best.”

Having debuted for Bengal way back on March 23, 1990 at Eden Gardens, Ganguly last played for the state and captained the side against Baroda in their Ranji match from December 21-24 last year.

The left-hander figured in 254 first-class matches besides his sparkling International career that saw him becoming the most successful Test captain with 21 wins out of 49.

He scored 7,212 runs in 113 Tests and 11,363 runs in 311 ODIs in a career spanning more than a decade as he had announced his retirement at the Nagpur Test against Australia from November 6—10, 2008.

Ganguly was part of the Big Four of Indian batting line-up alongside Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman. — PTI




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