Lalu presents Railway Budget amidst humour

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New Delhi, Feb 26: Railway Minister Lalu Prasad today announced a cash surplus of more than Rs 25,000 crore for 2007-08 while outlining his strategy of achieving high volumes by keeping the passenger fares low and selectively imposing surcharges to generate high revenues from freight.

Presenting the Railway Budget 2008-09 in the Lok Sabha, Mr Prasad said the total cash surplus for the last four years stood at a whopping Rs 68,778 crore. He said the sapling he had sown would grow into a mighty tree and bear fruit. Characteristic of his style, the Railway Minister set the tone by his humorous remarks right at the beginning of the presentation of his fifth budget.

''The world today acknowledges that I have done a tremendous job bringing crores of rupees into the coffers of the Railways,'' he said, basking in his achievements.

He quoted a couplet to the effect that he had not only conjured dreams, but also translated these into reality.

As soon as the Railway Minister was asked to make his statement, the MPs from Karnataka were on their feet, protesting against his alleged remarks which were derogatory to the Kannada community.

Mr Prasad was quick to deny the remarks and said he had already issued clarification in this regard. ''I hold people of Karnataka in high esteem,'' he quipped, bringing the curtain down on the issue that had been simmering for long.

The Railway Minister chose to present the budget in Hindi, while giving a whiff of how he intends to modernise the popular transport behemoth. In this connection, he announced his plans for installation of escalators at half of the railway stations in the country.

He also said that from now onwards, all passenger coaches would be made of stainless steel. These would be rust-proof and easy to maintain.

Freight loading is estimated to go up substantially from 650 million tonnes to 1100 million tonnes by 2011.

Faced with competition from low budget airlines, Mr Prasad addressed frequent complaints relating to cleanliness on premium trains. From now onwards, onboard cleaning would be done on Rajdhani and Shatabdi trains, and not just on stations.

For the convenience of passengers, the Railways would now have digital display on train arrivals and departures on most of the stations.

Realising the hardship faced by licensed porters, Mr Prasad said all of them would be absorbed as Class IV employees, like gangmen, in the Railways. For the first time ever, the Railway Minister, displaying his caring attitude, announced that a 'Mother-Child Express' would be launched in collaboration with the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation. The train is intended to benefit expectant mothers, giving them protection from being jostled by crowds in trains.

On the lines of concession available to cancer patients, Mr Prasad said that henceforth, AIDS and HIV patients would be able to travel at 50 per cent of ticket fare.

Taking into account frequent accidents at unmanned crossings, he said all such crossings would be converted into manned ones.

Besides, 2500 old signals would be replaced.

Further, as many as 1000 Rail OverBridges (ROBs) would be constructed, with 50 per cent of the cost to be met by states. l To ensure safety at railway stations, he announced measures in this regard, including installation of Close Circuit TVs (CCTVs).

Bringing to the fore the efficiency of the Railways, he said its operating ratio had come down to 73.3 per cent from 78 per cent a year earlier.

To ensure the robusteness of its revenues in future, Mr Prasad said Rs 40,000 crore would be invested in commercialisation of its vacant land.


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