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Lalu presents populist rail budget, no hike in II class fares

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New Delhi, Feb 24 (UNI) Railway Minister Lalu Prasad today unveiled a populist budget, leaving second class passenger fares unchanged and effecting 18 per cent reduction in AC first class and 10 per cent in AC second class fares, while introducing 55 new trains and not hiking freight rates across the board.

Announcing a slew of sops while presenting his third Budget in the Lok Sabha, Mr Prasad said fully air-conditioned 'Garib Rath' with fares 25 per cent lower than the AC Three Tier fares will be run on a pilot project basis for four pairs of trains.

He outlined a strategy to eliminate queues at booking counters through reduction in charges of e-tickets, installing 800 Automatic Ticket Vending machines and introducing 'Gramin ticket booking services'.

The Minister announced that 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.

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 MORE UNI SKS-GS LR SSC1247

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