Lalu's fifth budget will be 'people-friendly': Velu

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New Delhi, Feb 21 (UNI) Minister of State for Railways R Velu today gave ample indications that this year's Railway Budget, to be presented in Parliament on February 26, would be ''people-friendly'' having special provisions for upgrading passenger amenities.

Mr Velu refused to comment on whether there would be a hike in passenger fares and freight rates. ''Wait till February 26.

Everything will be known on that day,'' was his curt reply to a query from mediapersons on the sidelines of a railway event.

He, however, said passenger fares had not been increased during the last four years, and ''Railway Minister Lalu Prasad's fifth budget will also be people-friendly.'' Mr Velu said Mr Prasad had scripted the Railways' turnaround without effecting any hike in passenger fare or freight rate. ''We hope to accomplish all our targets for the current financial year,'' he added.

The budget will have huge trappings of populism, given the fact that it would possibly be the last one of the UPA government before the next year's general elections.

Rail Bhavan sources said there was a distinct possibility of rationalisation of fare structure for AC second tier and AC three tier in order to cushion the challenge from budget airlines.

This has been necessitated not as a populist move but as a measure based on robust business sense.

During April-December last year, the number of passengers travelling in this segment grew by only 7.46 per cent compared to 23.46 per cent a year earlier. Similarly, the number of passengers travelling in AC-three tier grew by 21.04 per cent.

Apparently, the Railways have been losing passengers to low-budget airlines. In the last rail budget, a two per cent reduction in the busy season and a four per cent cut in lean season were announced. A similar announcement in this segment is likely in this year's budget to woo back the lost clientele.

In the previous budget, Mr Prasad had also announced a token reduction of Rs one per passenger for second class travel in non-suburban ordinary passenger and non-superfast mail and express trains. This time also, there could be a minor reduction for this class.

''I will continue to surprise people, but in a pleasant manner.

It will be lot more promising in all aspects, friendly to the ordinary passengers and beneficial to commerce and business,'' Mr Prasad had earlier said.

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