Rly minister takes minimalist route

No hike in fares and freight, matter left to new and independent railway tariff authority; 72 new trains, including 17 premium trains, announced.

New Delhi :  The interim rail budget was a placid affair with no attempt to disturb the status quo. Union Railways Minister Mallikarjun Kharge took a minimalist route: He did not touch passenger fares and tariff rates, but announced 72 new trains and increased the frequency or destinations of six others.

Rly minister takes minimalist route

With a view to insulate the government of the day from the adverse political impact of fare hikes, Kharge announced the proposal to set up an independent Rail Tariff Authority to rationalize fares and to expand dynamic pricing of tickets in line with the airline industry.

Kharge cited the experi-ence of December 2013-January 2014 pilot conducted between Delhi-Mumbai by charging a dynamically va-rying premium over tatkal fare of the Rajdhani services.

“Such dynamic pricing was widely appreciated by the users and the media and gave increased earnings of about 48%, as against Rajdhani services on the same sector. We are considering opera-tion of this scheme on a larger scale,” he said.

He also appreciated the use of Information Technology in enhancing passenger services and announced a series of steps, including SMS alert and online booking of meals in trains. “IT has revolutionized our customer interface over the last few years.

We intend to continue the pro-cess,” he said.

He also announced the launch of 17 new premium trains, 39 express trains and ten passenger trains in the coming year and providing rail connectivity to Katra and Vaishnodevi in Jammu and Kashmir, and Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh in the Northeast.

The Minister also announced starting of more high-speed trains and said the Ministry was exploring low-cost option of semi high-speed trains on select routes moving at 160-200 km per hour.

With respect to the long term perspective, the minister said that the Dedicated Freight Corridor project that is underway will reduce the transit time to about half of the present level. “The capacity released by freight trains could then be used for running more passenger trains at higher speed in a need based manner, and this initiative would also offer significant reduction of Green House gas,” he said.

Kharge also stressed the financial position of the railways would have been healthier but for the huge outgo on account of the recommendations of the Pay Commission. ‘‘The railways successfully met the heavy impact of 6th Pay Commission in full during the period, and the total additional payout including arrears from 1st January 2006 has been more than Rs one lakh crore till now. Unlike other segments of the Government, Railways met the additional expenditure within its own means, from its own earnings,” he added.

The minister made a special reference to the state governments that had participated in the implementation of the projects in their state. He referred to Karnataka, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, and Haryana for agreeing to share cost of several Rail projects in their respective areas and appealed to state governments to follow suit. “This will go a long way in catalysing creation of rail infrastructure for overall national growth,” he added.

The by now familiar scenes in the Lok Sabha continued even as Kharge presented his first interim budget. Members from Andhra Pradesh, including union ministers, trooped into the well of the house, and though Kharge bravely tried to soldier on, the chaos ultimately forced him to curtail his speech.

The opposition to the creation of the Telangana state is now cutting across lines. The Lok Sabha could have a witnessed a physical clash between the supporters of unified Andhra on the one side and the pro-Telangana MPs on the other side, but it was fortunately averted by the intervention of senior JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav, Saugata Roy of Trinamool Congress and Jagadambika Pal of Congress.

The minister made a special reference to the state governments that had participated in the implementation of the projects in their state. He referred to Karnataka, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, and Haryana for agreeing to share cost of several Rail projects in their respective areas and appealed to state governments to follow suit. “This will go a long way in catalysing creation of rail infrastructure for overall national growth<” he added.

Anil Sharma

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