Lalu's populist rail rolls on; freight unchanged

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New Delhi, Feb 26: Presenting a highly populist budget with an eye on the coming elections, Railway Minister Lalu Prasad today effected a five per cent cut in passenger fares across the board and a seven per cent reduction in AC I class and 4 per cent in AC II tier, while keeping intact the freight structure. The five per cent discount pertains to passenger fares beyond Rs 50 in non-suburban second class for both ordinary and mail and express trains.

In his fifth and the last full-fledged budget of the UPA government, Mr Prasad said the relative index of fares for AC I tier will be reduced from 1150 to 1000 and from 850 to 600 for AC II tier. For popular trains and during peak hour period, these reductions would be half as in the previous year. In an unusually long speech running into two hours, the Railway Minister also announced a reduction of Rs one per passenger for fares up to Rs 50, in non-suburban second class trains, both express and mail. Carrying forward the logic of higher volumes based on low fares, Mr Prasad said there would be an increase in discount for travel in new design high-capacity reserved coaches.

While keeping the overall freight structure intact, the Minister announced a five per cent reduction in freight rates for petrol and diesel to provide succour to the public reeling under high prices of these two commodities. Besides, highest class 210 category of freight is to be reduced to 200 as part of the rationalisation process.

The presentation of the budget, which began with humour and wit, got lost in slogan-shouting and walkout as opposition members expressed disappointment that little had been done for the areas they belong to.

Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee time and again cajoled the members to permit the Minister to make his statement and at times threatened that he would ask Mr Prasad to lay his speech on the table of the House.

UNI

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