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No fare hike in Mamata’s budget
Published on 25 Feb. 2010 12:49 AM IST
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Passengers were spared a fare hike, freight rates were cut for grain and kerosene, and 54 new trains proposed in India’s $17 billion railway budget for 2010-11 that also pushes for private capital to expand the world’s second largest rail network under a single management. “In the present economic situation, when the country is about to return to a high growth path, I do not wish to impose any burden on citizens,” Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee told the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament, Wednesday. “Therefore, I do not propose any increase in passenger fares of any class or category of trains. Similarly, I do not intend to increase freight tariff,” she said in her marathon 110-minute speech, amid numerous interruptions that often made her flare up. Banerjee also announced the upgrade of 94 stations, launch of double-decker trains, 522 hospitals and diagnostic centres, target of 1,000 km new lines, 10 auto ancillary hubs, high-speed passenger corridors, six drinking water plants and housing for all railway staff in 10 years. Her proposals involve a total expense of Rs.87,100 crore (Rs.871 billion or $17.42 billion) with gross earnings of Rs.88,281 crore (Rs.882.82 billion or $17.74 billion). This comes after a net profit of Rs.1,328 crore for this fiscal. “We have set our goals in the Vision 2020 document and we will achieve it,” the minister said, referring to the new policy initiative unveiled in December that has set a target of over 25,000 km of routes into double or multiple lines against 18,000 km today. “It is a fact that administrative and procedural delays, external and internal, take place, discouraging prospective investors. We will need to overcome this,” she said, adding that the “typical negative approach” must also change. She, accordingly proposed a new business structure and a special task force to clear proposals within 100 days and said policy guidelines in this regard will be made easy, simple and investment friendly to attract funds to the sector -- all of which had India Inc elated. At the same time, it was evident the feisty minister from West Bengal had an eye to the assembly elections in her state, scheduled next year, unveiling a host of projects that are to come up there -- including some new wagon and coach factories. “I am happy there are lots of projects for West Bengal. But the minister has a clear eye on the assembly elections. The budget has clear political overtones,” Gurudas Dasgupta, Communist Party of India leader who also hails from West Bengal, remarked later. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee were among those in the house, presided over by Speaker Meira Kumar. According to her, 117 out of the 122 new trains promised in her last budget will be flagged off by March 31, within a matter of seven months, which was a commendable effort. The minister said there were a few cases of unfortunate accidents in the past and said these would be prevented by adopting the highest level of technology. BJP, Left slam budget Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee’s budget Wednesday came in for sharp criticism from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Left parties and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) while the Congress hailed the minister for not increasing passenger fares. BJP deputy leader in the Lok Sabha Gopinath Munde said Banerjee “appeared like West Bengal’s railway minister”. The BJP later came out with an official statement, slamming the budget and Banerjee. “Since the railway minister functions autonomously and not on the basis of any collective responsibility, there is no accountability in the present budget,” the BJP said. Pointing to the promises made by Banerjee in her last budget, the BJP said there was “no movement” in any of the areas that she promised. “Her only achievement was to come out with a White Paper as a minister for UPA (United Progressive Alliance) clearly establishing that profit making and improvement claims of the railways was completely fudged and fabricated,” the BJP said. It said the railway budget lacked larger vision and there was no proposal for railway operational safety. The party also objected to ‘tatkal’ service being extended to parcel and freight movement and wondered how the minister “will add 25,000 km of railway track”. The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) said in a statement that the railway budget exposed a sharp deterioration of the railways and Banerjee had “sought to conceal gross failures through misleading announcements and gimmicks aimed at the forthcoming assembly elections in West Bengal”. The party said over 120 railway accidents had taken place during the current financial year but the allocations for the Railway Safety Fund had been cut and over 1.7 lakh posts were lying vacant. The party said there was a squeeze in public investment in the railways and privatisation was being promoted. “It appears as if the entire decision-making in the railway ministry has been handed over to the corporate sector,” it said. RJD leader Lalu Prasad slammed the railway budget, saying “it had nothing new”. “The railways are going in reverse. There is nothing new in (railway) budget. It is a survey budget,” Lalu Prasad, whose party supports the United Progressive Alliance government from outside, told reporters. Lalu Prasad, who is Banerjee’s predecessor, also took a dig at her for last year’s White Paper on the performance of the railways during his term. “She had raised fingers over the accounting system. I want to ask her in all humility if she has changed the accounting system or followed the same,” he said. Banerjee’s budget was also criticised by the Communist Party of India (CPI). “It is not a national budget. It is a political budget, which focuses on West Bengal elections,” said CPI leader Gurdas Das Gupta. However, the Congress came out in full support of the minister. “We welcome the budget. In the last seven years there has been no hike in passenger fares. This is an achievement of the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) governments I and II. We thank the government,” Congress spokesman Shakeel Ahmed said.

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