By M.Y.Siddiqui ,4 July :The Railway Budget 2009-10, presented by the Union Minister for Railways, Mamta Banerjee in the Lok Sabha today, is both populist and popular and at the same time a bonanza for the rail users of all hues. There is no increase in passenger fare and freight rate, which bodes well for the national economy given its current downturn. In a typical of Mamta Banerjee’s stance for the poor, she announced that Railways will expand to cover all corners of the country in keeping with the professed policy of the UPA Government for inclusive growth and prosperity of our people.
The Minister proposed an outlay of Rs,.40,745 crores for 2009-10. Out of this, Rs.2,921 crores. will be spent on new lines, Rs.1750, crores. on gauge conversion and Rs.1,102 crores. on passenger amenities, which is 119% more than the allocation in the interim budget. Rs.424 cr. will also be spent on railway staff amenities. She proposed freight loading target of 882 Million Tonnes (MT) and estimated gross freight performance of the Railways in 2008-09. Giving an overview of financial performance during 2008-09, she said passenger traffic increased by 11.4 per cent and freight by 5 per cent to reach Rs. 79,862 crores.
The Budget has proposals for seven new lines, gauge conversion of 17 lines and doubling of 13 railway lines. In addition, proposals for 53 new lines, 3 gauge conversion and doubling of 12 lines will be processed during the year.
She proposed revision in Tatkal Scheme to make it more passenger friendly. The Railway Minister said that both the advance booking time and minimum charge will be reduced. She said perceptible improvement will be ensured in passenger amenities and safety and security given utmost importance. Cleanliness and quality of railway catering will be improved with focus on strict monitoring. She proposed that ticketing facilities will be taken to the grassroots level. Under the ‘Maa Mati Manush’ initiative, computerized tickets will also be made available through 500 Post Offices, to begin with. Mobile ticketing vans in the name of ‘Mushkil Aasaan’, will also be introduced to provide services in remote areas.
Timely track renewal, modernization of signals and use of digital ultrasonic flaw detectors will be introduced for improving the safety of the passengers besides Integrated Security Scheme at 140 vulnerable and sensitive stations. Women Railway Protection Force Squads, exclusively for women passengers, will also be introduced.
The Railway Minister announced to the delight of the poor a new scheme “Izzat” for travel with dignity. Under this scheme the people in unorganized sector with monthly income up to Rs.1,500/- can avail concessional monthly season ticket of Rs.25/- for travel up to100 kilo metres.
In a great relief to women passengers, the Minister proposed ‘only ladies’ EMU trains in Delhi, Chennai and Kolkata suburban during rush hours on the pattern of one in Mumbai suburban railways. She also announced new ‘Yuva trains’ dedicated to young generation from rural hinterland to major metros with concessional rail fare but with air-conditioned facilities.
As for the travel concession to the media persons, the Minister announced a hassle-free increased concession of 50% instead of existing 30% . Once in a year their spouse can also travel with 50% concession. The existing coupon book will be done away with. Accordingly, accredited journalists on the basis of a certificate from the Press Information Bureau at the Central level and relevant authorities at the state and district levels will avail themselves of such facilities.
The Railway Minister announced 12 new point to point, non-stop ‘Duronto’ trains, 57 new train services, extension of 27 trains and increase in frequency of 13 trains. The Minister also proposed introduction of Air-conditioned double decker coaches for inter-city travel. This is over and above 43 new trains already proposed in the Interim Rail Budget 2009-10 presented in February 2009.
Fifty stations will be developed as world-class stations and 375 stations as ‘Adarsh (Model) Stations’ with improved basic amenties. Multi functional complexes with shopping facilities, food stalls, budget hotels would be constructed at 50 railway stations, in the hubs of pilgrimage, tourism and industry.
The Minister announced availability of ‘Janata Khana’, in which national and regional cuisines will be ensured keeping in consideration cultural diversity of our people. To improve the cleanliness, the onboard house keeping scheme (OBHS) will cover 200 additional pairs of trains. The long distance trains will have onboard availability of doctors and infotainment services. She also proposed 1000 new passenger reservation locations and expansion of Unreserved Ticketing System terminal from 5000 to 8000, In addition, automated ticket vending machines will be installed at 200 large and medium size stations.
She also announced a slew of facilities for handicapped persons, who will now have more ramps, lifts, escalators and special coaches. These will cover the aged persons as well.
The Railway Minister also announced sops for farmers through special trains to ferry perishable agro products like fruits, vegetables and also village handicrafts, cottage industry and textile products from production clusters to consumer clusters. She also proposed premium freight services for container movement with assured transit time and a mega logistic hub alongside eastern and western dedicated freight corridors. Premium parcel services with guaranteed transit time on pilot basis will be introduced on three routes. During 2009-10, Railway would acquire 18,000 new wagons against 11,000 in 2008-09.
The Minister announced creation of North-East Rail Development Fund for timely completion of national projects in the North Eastern Region and said Quazigund-Anantnag new line in Jammu and Kashmir will be completed by next month (August 2009). She also proposed setting up of a new factory at Kanchrapara-Halisahar for manufacturing rail coaches and setting up 1000 MW power plant at Adra, in collaboration with Ministry of Power. Besides, her announcement that senior officials at the Railway Board, Zonal and Divisional levels will be monitoring various projects to ensure their timely completion and for that those officials will be made accountable was lauded by all Members in the House.
The Railway Minister said that welfare of railway staff will be given high priority. Accordingly, 6560 staff quarters will be constructed in 2009-10 and indoor stadia developed in major railway divisions and zones. Increased contribution of Rs.350 per employees to Staff Benefit Fund will continue for a year, with Rs.100 per employee for women empowerment. Scholarships will be introduced for the higher education of girl children of Group ‘D’ staff. She proposed attached medical colleges with railway hospitals at 18 locations and one burn unit each at major hospitals. The Minister said the policy on Railway Recruitment Boards will be reviewed. Special recruitment drives for filling vacancies of SC and ST and physically handicapped will be undertaken.
She announced review of projects with social perspective and innovative financing will be adopted. The Railways will come out with a White Paper on organizational, operational and financial status based on the last five years’ performance and develop Vision-2020 with short and long term strategy and plan of action. She said that a project monitoring committee will be set up for developing mechanism to avoid slippage in project delivery. Special monitoring will be taken up for all National Rail Projects. She also proposed an expert committee headed by Shri Sam Pitroda to suggest innovations to utilize optic fibre cable network of Railways for commercial purposes to take information technology to remote areas.
Every Railway Minister leaves a blue print in augmenting rail services to the Nation. So has Mamta Banerjee tried to do through her maiden rail budget, which is the first of the UPA Government in its second term of office and third such budget by her if the two railway budgets that she presented during her first stint as the Railway Minister during the NDA Government over eight years ago are included. But the task before her is daunting in view of the current trend in the national economy.