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Populist India Rail Budget: 2011
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:
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