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Lalu may unveil pro-people Railway Budget today
Fuel price cuts to help Lalu's budget
Having managed to keep passengers fares in check for the last five years, Railway Minister Lalu Prasad is expected to announce more sops for train travellers when he presents the interim railway budget in Parliament on Friday.
Prasad, who desisted from carrying out any upward hike in the passenger fares despite increase in global prices of crude oil in the past five years of UPA rule, may this time announce some pro-people schemes ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.
Though it is a vote-on-account exercise, sources in the ministry said Lalu is keen to share the benefits of the reduction in oil prices with passengers.
Speculation is rife that Lalu might slash passenger fares in certain sector while seeking budgetary grant for April-July period.
Despite the global meltdown, railways have carried 74.55 million tonnes (MT) of freight during January this year which is 2.9 per cent more than the same period last year.
Railways have recorded an annual growth of 14 per cent in overall traffic earnings during the UPA regime.
Besides highlighting Ministry's achievements in the last five years, the interim budget is likely to have proposals for introduction of more trains including Garib Raths.
Garib Rath, which provides AC comfort to passengers belonging to poor sections of society, was introduced by Lalu in 2006-07. Currently, there are 20 Garib Raths and a few more are likely to be announced this time.
As the Railways have already hiked the freight rate of carrying foodgrains, pulses, flours and fertilisers by 8.3 per cent, it is likely that the freight rate will remain unchanged.
While the budget is likely to register a cash surplus before paying dividend at about Rs 25,000 crore, the operating ratio is also expected to be more than last year's 76 per cent.
The implementation of the Sixth Pay Commission for the railway employees is the reason for the higher operating ratio in the current year than the last financial year, said a senior official of the ministry.
Since there are many complaints against the quality of food being served in trains and platforms, railways are planning to revamp the whole catering system.
IRCTC has proposed to change the menu from traditional 'thali' system to combo meal system in trains and for this 150 kitchen cells would be set up across the country.
The emphasis will be on hygiene and quality of the food in the kitchen cell system, said a senior IRCTC official.
Keeping the Mumbai terror attacks in mind, the budget is likely to spell out a series of measures undertaken by railways to strengthen security including filling up of vacant RPF posts and installation of integrated security system at sensitive stations. Tenders will be issued shortly for installing state-of-the-art security equipment at Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai in the first phase.
Commissioning of the pre-feasibility study for the bullet train in Pune-Mumbai-Ahmadabad route, awarding the contract for the ground work on the Dedicated Freight Corridor, installation of escalators at 100 stations are likely to find place in the budget.
Aiming at curbing accidents at level crossings, Prasad is likely to announce construction of railway overbridge and underbridge at certain identified places.
The extension of train operation from Rajwansher to Baramulla in Jammu and Kashmir is likely to find a special mention in the budget.