ASSOCHAM's wishlist for Lalu: modernise 100 stations: Hike fare

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New Delhi, Feb 22 (UNI) A leading business chamber today suggested inclusion of modernisation and upgradation programme for 100 railway stations in the coming budget, especially in metros and pilgrimage sites, through PPP on lines of airports to make Indian Railways on par with international level and also bolster its revenues.

In its wishlist presented to Railway Minister Lalu Prasad ahead of February 26 Railway Budget, ASSOCHAM also made a strong case for doubling its short distance fares from 25 paise per km to 50 paise per km and chalking out a suitable strategy for commercial exploitation of Railways' 43,000 hectares of vacant land.

In his communication to the minister, ASSOCHAM President Venugopal N. Dhoot said, most of railway stations in the northern and western zones need immediate modernisation so that these are made of world-class standard and also increase its revenue resources.

''Indian Railways can substantially increase its revenue generation if it leases out at least 100 railway stations for modernisation through public-private partnership,'' said Mr Dhoot.

He said the modernisation drive of railway stations should be through competitive bidding process ''in an absolutely transparent manner'' so that a large number of private players are given a level playing field.

The ASSOCHAM Chief also said multi-storeyed complexes with adequate shopping and entertainment facilities could be put up in the existing railway stations all over the country.

''To make it happen, the Railway Minister should come out with well-documented budget proposals, recommending to the Finance Minister duty waivers on project imports as also offer excise waiver on raw material needed to modernise the railway stations through PPP without losing the control of government on railways land,'' he reasoned out.

The ASSOCHAM's proposals also included a multi-pronged PPP-based strategy to suitably commercialise about 43,000 hectare of railway land for real estate development and undertake its modernisation drive through enhanced safety measures.

Mr Dhoot contended that Mr Prasad should incorporate provisions with sufficient fiscal concessions to lure real estate promoters for developing unused land that Railways have in its possessions to build motels, smaller huts and apartments, logging houses and pizza huts to enhance its revenue.

''The Chamber is of the view that Indian Railway Finance corporation Ltd should be empowered with fattening its corpus size from higher allocation from the Finance Ministry and issue Letters of Intent (LoIs), seeking public private partnership to commercially utilise such huge landscape of Indian Railway for productive purposes,'' he said.

He also suggested that the Railways' financial institutions should extend long-term loans to real estate developers and hoteliers with concessional interest rates for development of its land.

''If a suitable announcement is made to this effect, such a huge chunk of railways unused land will be commercially utilised, percolating benefits to both railways and end users.'' In addition, ASSOCHAM also stressed the need for hiking the railways short distance fares which currently are fixed at 25 paise per kilometer, ostensibly benefiting the lower strata of the society which in reality does not serve the purpose.

''On the contrary, it puts burden on the railways and shrinks its profitability and therefore such short distance fares should be brought on par with road transport that charges about 60 paise per km,'' it pointed out.

UNI/SKS SHB KP1836

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