Lalu presents 'Aam Aadmi' Rail Budget; II class fares untouched
New Delhi, Feb 24 (UNI) In a budget catering to the 'Aam Aadmi', Railway Minister Lalu Prasad today left the second class fares unchanged, took the fast-growing low-budget airlines head on by slashing the AC I and II fares and announced 55 new trains, including four affordable, luxury 'Garib Rath' for the common man.
The third Railway Budget of the UPA government also found favour with the business community as freight charges were, by and large, left untouched, bringing delight to economists as a freight hike would have stoked the fire of creeping inflation rate.
Riding on a Rs 11,000-crore surplus income, an emboldened Mr Prasad in his budget presented in the Lok Sabha amid unprecedented uproarious scenes, effected an 18 per cent reduction in AC first class and 10 per cent in AC second class fares.
The raucous scenes were the creation of both the Opposition and the Left parties supporting the UPA government, the allegation being all states except the ''Land of Lalu'' was ignored.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hailed the budget as ''forward looking'' and patted Mr Prasad for his innovative initiative which would accelerate growth and facilitate modernisation.
Declaring 2006 as 'The Year of Passenger Service With a Smile', Mr Prasad said more than 200 mail/express trains would be converted into superfast trains.
The second class fares were left untouched for the third successive time.
As many as 800 more unreserved ticketing system (UTS) counters to allow people walk in and buy tickets will be set up this year. To eliminate long queues at booking counters, the Railways will expand the e-ticket facilities and install 800 Automatic Ticket Vending Machines.
The new rationalised tariff structure will be 11.5 times the second class fare for AC first class and 6.5 times for the AC second class.
Sending parcels through trains, which has been a drain on the Railways, will now be costlier by 15-20 per cent.
In deference to the sentiments of the pilgrims to the shrine of Khwaja Ajmer Sharif, Mr Prasad announced the launch of 'Garib Nawaz Express' trains from Ranchi, Kishanganj and Bangalore (Yashwantpur) to Ajmer.
The pilgrims to Vaishnodevi will be able to travel right up to the base camp in Katra with the Minister announcing that the Udhampur-Katra rail link will be completed during this financial year itself.
There will be three 'Garib Rath' weekly trains connecting Delhi with Patna, Mumbai and Chennai, and another bi-weekly train between Saharsa in Bihar and Amritsar.
The travel time of all Rajdhani trains would be reduced by an hour each.
The Minister, who remained unflustered in the face of chaotic scenes, announced during his 95-minute speech that a Dedicated Multimodal High Axle Freight Corridor with computerised trains on Western and Eastern routes would be constructed at a cost of Rs 22,000 crore.
The Western Corridor will connect the Jawharlal Nehru port in Maharashtra to Dadri in Uttar Pradesh, while the Eastern Corridor would extend from Ludhiana in Punjab to Sonnagar in Bihar.
The freight rationalisation includes the number of commodity groups being reduced from 80 to 28, lowering of highest class to 220 and reduction in freight rate of diesel and petrol by eight per cent, a move which will find favour with the business community.
Four popular trains would be provided with world-class passenger amenities and interiors, while new technology LHB passenger coaches will be used in Patna and Sealdah Rajdhani trains. The trains are Hazrat Nizamuddin-Gwalior Taj Express, New Delhi-Patna Sampoorna Kranti Express, Chennai-Bangalore Brindavan Express and New Delhi-Barauni Vaishali Express.
Despite these concessions, Mr Prasad managed the largest-ever plan outlay of Rs 23,475 crore of which Rs 7,511 crore is to come from the General Exchequer.
Mr Prasad spoke with great pride about the financial turnaround of the Railways, saying many may perceive it as a ''miracle'' as just three years back the transport behemoth had deferred dividend payments.
''Now the fund balances have grown to Rs 11,000 crore,'' Mr Prasad remarked.
Eds: Pick up suitably from earlier series.
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