New Delhi: Railways Minister Lalu Prasad is likely to dole out some sops to the travellers when he presents the interim railway budget in Parliament on 13 February.
Prasad, who has spared the public from the upward hike in the passenger fares despite increase in global prices of crude oil in the past five years of UPA rule, may this time announce some populist schemes ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.
Besides highlighting Ministry’s achievements in the last five years, the interim budget is likely to have proposals for introduction of more Garib Raths.
As the Railways have already hiked the freight rate of food-grains and fertilisers by 8.3% from early February, it is likely that the freight and passenger fare will remain unchanged.
While the budget is likely to register the cash surplus before paying dividend at about Rs25,000 crore, the operating ratio is also expected to be more than last year’s 76%.
The implementation of the Sixth Pay Commission for the railway employees is the reason for the higher operating ratio in the current year than the last financial year, said a senior official of the ministry.
Keeping the Mumbai terror attack in mind, the budget is likely to spell out a series of measures undertaken by railways to strengthen the security including filling up of vacant RPF posts and installation of integrated security system at sensitive stations.
The railway minister is expected to announce some pro-poor steps in his budget besides starting new trains in different parts of the country.
Commissioning of the pre-feasibility study for the bullet train in Pune-Mumbai-Ahmadabad route, awarding the contract for the ground work on the Dedicated Freight Corridor, installation of escalators at 100 stations are likely to find place in the budget.
Aiming at curbing accidents at level crossings, Prasad is likely to announce construction of railway over- and under- bridge at certain identified places.
Use of stainless steel coaches and operation of base kitchens for providing quality food to passengers are also slated to be mentioned.
The extension of train operation from Rajwansher to Baramulla in Kashmir is likely to find a special mention in the budget.
Currently, the train is running between the 66-km long Anantnag-Rajwansher route as part of the Kashmir rail link project.
Besides, ongoing rail projects in northeast are also slated to be mentioned in the vote-on-account.
As per the general practise, there has to be full budget withing 75 days of the interim budget. However, Article 85 (1) of the Constitution says the next Parliament session has to be called within 180 days of the termination of the previous session.
As the Election Commission is likely to announce the schedule for general elections soon after the Parliament session ends on 26 February, the interim budget is the last major opportunity for the ruling UPA alliance to woo the electorate as the model code of conduct will be enforced after the announcement.