Keeping to his populist policies, Railway Minister Lalu Prasad cut passenger fares across-the-board while keeping the freight rates mostly unchanged. Only the freight rate on iron ore and petroleum was reduced. Lalu presented the Railway Budget amidst furor and noisy disruptions in the Lok Sabha.
Harping on his favourite theme of a pro-poor budget, Lalu again put the burden of garnering revenue on freight traffic. Claiming that last year, the ministry managed to make money despite sparing the poor, Lalu went ahead announcing plans for setting up three-storied container trains on a pilot basis.
One immediate reaction of his policies was that cement stocks took a knock and went down.
While freight traffic was up 17%, passenger traffic was up 14% during the FY07. Freight on steel and cement was up 5-7% during the April-December period. NTPC and other companies were to help in construction of new lines.
Saying that passenger fare business has improved due to volumes, Lalu said 6,800 computerised ticket counters will be set up. The Indian railways are expected to have made a Rs 20,000 crore ($4.5 billion) profit for the fiscal year 2006-07, Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav said on 26 February.
Earlier, the Quattrocchi issue rocked Parliament on 26 February with the Opposition stalling proceedings demanding immediate extradition of the Italian businessman, prime accused in the Bofors kickbacks case.
As soon as normal business for the three-month-long Budget session commenced, the BJP-led Opposition trooped into the Well in the Lok Sabha shouting slogans.
“Bring back Ottavio Quattrocchi who slipped out after taking bribes,” the members shouted.
UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi was seated on the front row flanked by External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar.
“Please maintain calm. Please go back to your seats,” Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee repeatedly told the members. “No word will be recorded,” he told them.
With the din continuing, he adjourned the House till noon.
Similar scenes were witnessed in the Rajya Sabha where BJP and Samajwadi Party members stormed the Well shouting slogans.
With noisy scenes continuing, Chairman Bhairon Singh Shekhawat adjourned the House till 1400 hrs.