Mamata's populist Rail budget meets expectations

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Mamata Banerjee
New Delhi, Jul 3: Presenting a promised 'pro-people' budget, the Railways Minister, Mamata Banerjee, said on Friday, Jul 3 that economic viability is not the only index of development.

Banerjee proposed no increase in passenger fares or freight tariff while announcing a slew of measures, including the launch of 12 non-stop point-to-point long-distance trains and air-conditioned double-decker coaches for inter-city travel.

She also announced concessions for the unorganised sector by proposing monthly season ticket of Rs 25 for people with monthly income of up to Rs 1,500 for travel up to 100 kms.

Her proposals included introduction of 57 new train services, extension of 27 new trains and increase in frequency of 13 trains and making 'Tatkal' scheme more user-friendly by reducing the advance booking period from five days to two days and minimum charge from Rs 150 to Rs 100.

The sops also covered students of Madrassas to whom concessions will be extended. Concessional monthly season tickets to students in Kolkata will be applicable for travel in the Kolkata Metro Rail also.

This year's Budget estimates for 2009-10 projects a freight loading target of 882 million tonnes, an increase of 49 million tonnes and a six per cent increase in the number of passengers.

Gross traffic receipts have been estimated at Rs 88,419 crore, which is Rs 8,557 crore more than 2008-09.

Mamata added that an expert committee will be set up to advise her on implementation of the so-called economically unviable but socially desired projects

"People expect to get better rail and train facilities. Development should not be restricted to a only few people. People want better connectivity between stations in the nation. My priorities will include better passenger amenities, safety and security and provision of good quality food and drinking water," she added.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hailed Banerjee for doing a "competent job" at such short notice, saying the Railway Budget will make train travel an "enjoyable experience".

"She (Mamata) has prepared a budget which does not impose burden by way of increase in freight charges or passenger charges," Dr Singh told reporters outside Parliament shortly after the Railway Budget 2009-10 was presented in Lok Sabha.

"At the same time, she has, in keeping with our government's election promises, focussed her attention on passenger amenities like security and safety of rail travel, making it an enjoyable experience," he added.

Dr. Singh said the Railway Minister has mentioned a large number of facilities by way of using innovative financial mechanisms like public-private partnership (PPP), "to improve railway production and to finance more investment".

"I, therefore, compliment her for a competent job she has accomplished in shortest available time," he said

BJP leader Murali Manohar Joshi said only cosmetic changes had been made from the interim rail budget.

He said these were only pronouncements.

Regarding the utilization of postal department for buying tickets, he said it is good but it will remain unutilized.

Senior RJD leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh said that an injustice had been done to Bihar.

BJP leader Shah Nawaz Hussain also said Bihar had been completely ignored.

ANI

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