Sparing the passenger and industry from fare and freight hikes yet again, Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee Friday presented the rail budget for 2011-12 with the highest investment of Rs.57,630 crore ($12.7 billion), 68 new trains and a vow to build a stronger railroad infrastructure based on the Vision 2020 document.
From more money for safety and several industrial parks under the public-private model, to new coach factories and concessions for women and even journalists, Banerjee sought to address all constituencies, especially her poll-bound home state of West Bengal.
Apart from new trains, the budget sought to extend the services of 33 trains, increase frequencies of 17 others, conduct 107 line surveys to identify new routes, start double-decker trains on Jaipur-Delhi and Ahmedabad-Mumbai routes and introduce super AC class.
The budget also sought to extend the concession to physically challenged people to all Rajdhani and Shatabdi trains, make 50 percent concession for media persons and families twice a year, and hike the rebate to senior citizens from 30 percent to 40 percent.
Also to be launched is a multi-purpose pan-India smart card "Go India" for seamlessly pay for tickets for long distance, suburban and metro trains. A new portal for e-tickets will levy a lower charge of Rs.10 for airconditioned and Rs.5 for other classes.
And what does West Bengal, in particular, get: A new metro coach factory at Singur, 15 new suburban trains and 34 new Metro services for Kolkata. Several of the new trains, extensions and enhanced frequencies also pertain to her home state.
"We have taken a two-pronged approach. On the one hand, building sustainable, efficient, rapidly-growing railways. On the other, having an acute sense of social responsibility towards the common people," Banerjee told the Lok Sabha.
"In this budget we have attempted to combine a strong economic focus with an equivalent emphasis on social inclusion with a human face," she said in her 90-minute speech which was her fifth such personal exercise as railways minister.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was among the first to laud his railway minister's effort. "It is a common man's budget without increase in freight and passenger fares. It will help weaken cost push element of inflation," the prime minister told reporters.
"The railway minister has done a commendable job."
The latest rail budget also comes against the backdrop of the assembly elections due soon in the home state of the railway minister, whose Trinamool Congress has set its eyes on forming the next government in the state, ousting the Left-led rule of over three decades.
Mid-way into Banerjee's speech, opposition members, especially those from the Rashtriya Janata Dal, Samajwadi Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party, were up on their feet, protesting what they said was undue attention to West Bengal.
But Banerjee was equally fiery. "I am proud of my state. I'll do whatever possible for West Bengal along with what I'll do for other states of my country." This led to some disruptions, forcing the minister to stop her speech on several occassions.
In the previous two rail budgets for the United Progressive Alliance government (UPA), Banerjee had announced 57 new trains in 2009-10 and another 54 a year later, without altering the freight or passenger tariff rates.
Indian Railways, the world's second largest under a single management, has a network of 64,099 route km to ferry as many as 18.9 million passengers on 7,000 trains daily from 6,906 stations. It also runs 4,000 freight trains to carry 850 million tonnes of cargo.
The railway minister said the ministry's gross traffic receipts were expected to cross the Rs.100,000-crore ($22.5-billion) mark for the first time ever this fiscal, based on freight traffic projection of 993 million tonnes and passenger growth of 6.4 percent
Following are the highlights of the budget:
- No increase in passngers fares or freight rates.
- Earnings for 2010-11 set to exceed Rs.1 lakh crore.
- Working expenditure during 2011-12 estimated at Rs.87,000 crore.
- Outlay of Rs.57,630 crore for 2011-12, the highest investment in one year.
- Rs.10,000 crore to be raised through railway bonds.
- Budget combines strong economic focus with inclusion.
- Will develop business-oriented policies to aid industry.
- 85 public-private partnership proposals received.
- Single-window system to take the forward.
- Decided to set-up rail-based industries.
- Passing through a difficult phase.
- 97 percent increase in expenditure in 2010-11 due to implementation of Sixth Pay Commission report.
- Loss of Rs.3,500 crore in 2010-11.
- Ten-year backlog of 1.75 lakh jobs being addressed; 16,000 ex-servicemen to be given jobs in railways.
- Safety first priority; accident rate has come down.
- Anti-collision device, successful in North West Frontier Railway, to be extended to three more zonal railways.
- Railways always been a soft target but law and order a state subject. If railways are blocked in one region, this has a snowballing effect in other parts of the country.
- Will add 180 km of rail lines in 2011-12.
- All-India security helpline set up.
- New Durantos to be run on Allahabad-Mumbai, Pune-Ahmedabad, Sealdah-Puri, Secunderabad-Visakhapatnam, Madurai-Chennai routes, among others.
- Rail linkage to Gujarat from Delhi-Mumbai freight corridor.
- Integrated suburban network to be set up in Mumbai, Chennai, Ahmedabad and other cities; suburban system of Hyderabad to be strengthened.
- Mumbai suburban system's EMU coaches to be increased from nine to 12.
- Pradhan Mantri Rail Vikas Yojna to be launched.
- Industrial park to be set up in Nandigram, West Bengal.
- Railways to set up factory in Jammu and Kashmir.
- To set up Metro coach factory at Singur, West Bengal.
- First coach from Rae Bareli factory to roll out in next three months.
- Work on wagon factory in Orissa to begin after land is acquired.
- Manipur capital Imphal to be soon connected to railway network.
- Centre for excellence in software to be set up at Darjeeling.
- Fund to be created for socially desirable projects.
- Central Organistaion for Project Implemtaiton created; will create accountability for non-performance.
- Work started on two dedicated freight corridors.
- Work on upgrading 442 stations to be completed by March 31.
- Decision to start pilot projects to give shelter to homeless people living along the tracks in Mumbai.
- Multi-purpose smart card to be introduced for all-India travel.
- Airport-like trolleys to be provided at more stations.
- Railways to set up a sports cadre.
- Upgraded class of air conditioned travel to be introduced shortly.
- To adopt modern technology through centres of academic excellence.
- Train to run to Bangladesh to showcase Indian culture.
- Age for senior citizen's concession reduced to 58 from 60.
- Concession for physically handicapped and gallantry award winners for travel in Rajdhani and Shatabdi expresses.
- 50 percent concession for mediapersons with families to be increased from once to twice a year.