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Mamata’s populist Rly Budget
Published on 4 Jul. 2009 1:04 AM IST
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According top priority to social commitment as opposed to economic viability, Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee Friday presented her ministry’s budget for this fiscal with no fare hikes and proposals to introduce 57 new trains, improve passenger amenities and upgrade some 300 stations to global standards. A freeze on passenger fares and freight rates, non-stop trains between a host of key stations, air-conditioned double-decker trains for inter-city travel, sale of tickets at 5,000 post offices and automatic vending machines at 200 stations were the highlights of her budget. “People all over the country have high expectations from the railway budget,” Banerjee told the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament, in her 65-minute speech setting the tone of the third budget of her career and the first for the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. “Time has come when our economic and social philosophers have to change their old mindsets of economic viability and replace it with social viability and uplift,” she said, proposing a plan expenditure of Rs.40,745 crore (Rs.407.45 billion/$8 billion). “Railways is an organisation with twin responsibilities - commercial and social. It will be our endeavour to render all commercial services with a human face,” she said, quoting a couplet of Nobel Laureate Rabindra Nath Tagore. Indian Railways runs the world’s second largest railroad network under a single management, with network of 108,706 km, ferrying some 14 million passengers on 7,000 trains daily from 6,906 stations. It also runs 4,000 freight trains to carry nearly 850 millions of cargo each year. Along with the social commitment involved, the sheer size of the Indian Railways is the reason why it is the only ministry that has a separate budget. Banerjee said her focus would be on some basic but important areas of railroad services such as tasty food at affordable prices, clean toilets at stations and inside trains, availability of potable water and comfortable waiting rooms for passengers. Her proposals will result in the introduction of 57 new train services, extension of 27 trains, and increasing the frequencies of 13 others, besides the introduction of double-decker trains between some stations. All passenger trains will henceforth have a doctor on board, ticketing and reservation systems will be expanded to cover 800 new locations in addition to 800 existing ones, along with automatic vending machines at 200 locations. The railway minister also announced a new scheme “Izzat” for passengers to travel with dignity. Under this, people in unorganized sector with monthly income of up to Rs.1, 500 can get monthly seasons ticket at Rs.25 for travel up to 100 km. 10 North East Railway Projects Ten rail projects in the North-East region have been declared as national projects. These include Bogibeel rail cum road bridge and gauge conversion of Lumding-Silchar-Jiribam, Rangia-Murkongselek. To ensure strict adherence to time schedules for completion on these projects, senior officers are being entrusted with their close monitoring. This was announced by the Minister of Railways in Parliament today. Presenting the Railway Budget for 2009-10, she said, the North-East Region is very sensitive and its projects are in progress for providing connectivity to State capitals of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram. The Minister said, the construction of national project in Sikkim from Sivok to Rangpo is proposed to be entrusted to IRCON for time bound completion. The surveys for new lines connecting Gangtok and Shillong have been completed and the proposals would be further processed for necessary clearances. She said, a proposal for creation of North-East Region Rail Development Fund has already been initiated to ensure necessary funds for timely completion of National Projects in the region. The Minister said, the work of Lumding-Silchar gauge conversion is getting adversely affected due to adverse law and order conditions in the area. She said, the matter has been taken up with the concerned authorities for providing necessary security so that the work could progress smoothly.

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