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Lalu to set tone of populist budget

Lalu to set tone of populist budget
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First Published: Sun, Feb 24 2008. 04 16 PM IST
Updated: Sun, Feb 24 2008. 04 16 PM IST
New Delhi: Marginal reduction of fares, freight-rate cuts on petrol and steel and concessional schemes for elders and students are likely to be proposed in the Railway Budget for 2008-09 to be presented in Parliament on Tuesday.
Twenty-six new projects may be announced in the budget which Railway Minister Lalu Prasad has indicated will be “people friendly”.
While passenger fares may be reduced by 3 to 5%, freight rates for petroleum, steel and iron ore may come down by 3 to 4%, sources said.
The cut is being contemplated as the railways have managed to reduce operational costs while increasing revenue through volume growth, the sources said.
While freight earnings have risen by 11%, passenger revenue has gone up by 14% during April 2007 to January 2008 providing enough scope to Prasad to go for fare reduction.
The cut in fares is likely to cover all classes while suburban fares may be rationalised.
As far as freight is concerned, railways would continue with its rationalisation policy as observed in the past three budgets.
“The Indian Railway is passing through its best phase in terms of development and the budget for the next financial year would be a basket of comforts for the common passengers,” Prasad has said.
The total plan outlay in the coming Rail Budget is likely to be around Rs36,000 crores while railways are expected to generate a substantial revenue to meet the growing expenditure through public-private partnership.
“This time the focus is likely to be mostly on meeting expenditures through internal resources,” said a senior railway official.
With the total revenue more than Rs57,000 crore, Railways’ profit may touch about Rs23,000 crores this year against Rs20,000 crores last year.
Railways are likely to announce some concessional schemes for elders, women, players and students. There would be some incentives for porters who form a large part of the rail work force and have been demanding Class IV status.
According to the sources, Mumbai Urban Transport Project Phase II is likely to get a substantial amount in the budget. The project aimed at decongesting the crowded stations of Mumbai suburban stations.
The budget is expected to strengthen services in backward regions, including North-East states. Some new lines are to be sanctioned in this region.
The budget is likely to come out with 26 new rail projects of which 13 will be of new rail lines.
While Bihar is likely to have maximum new projects, some others states including Tamil Nadu, Tripura, West Bengal, Uttarakhand and Madhya Pradesh may get a few new projects.
Development of Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC) project for carrying additional traffic is essential for railway in view of high growth in demand. The budget is likely to have provisions for generating funds for the project.
The 2008-09 Rail Budget may spell out funding plan of the 1300-km long Delhi to Sealdah eastern corridor of the DFC project.
Announcement of a feasibility study for high speed train corridors are likely to be made in the budget as there are about seven states keen to be part of the project.
Internet facilities at some premier trains are likely to be announced in budget.
While special concessions for AIDS patients travelling in trains are likely to be made and railways may make provisions for setting up clinics at certain stations.
Since there are frequent complaints against the food served in trains, the Railway Minister is likely to address the issue in this budget.
Provision will be made for setting up modern facilities at a large number of model stations that are planned to be developed during the year besides making New Delhi, Agra, Jaipur and Patna stations as world class.
Railway Budget may continue to follow the mantra of increasing volumes and decreasing unit costs. The Railway Minister is expected to announce the use of higher axle load waggon of 25 tonnes for transporting more type of commodities.
Railways are already carrying a substantial amount of its iron ore, steel and petroleum productions on 25-tonne axle load trains. Such higher axle load trains will now also be used for transporter bulk commodities such as cement and coal.
Railways have set a target of carrying 785 million tonnes of freight loading for this fiscal. It hopes to increase it into 1,100 million tonnes in the next five years.
Railway Ministry is expected to implement the recommendation of the Sixth Pay Commission in 2008-09 and the government has asked the ministry to make a provision of Rs9000 crores from its own sources to pay wages which are likely to be hiked by the pay panel.
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First Published: Sun, Feb 24 2008. 04 16 PM IST