New Delhi: It is expected to be a tightrope walk for railway minister Mamata Banerjee, who has emphasized on giving a ‘human face’ to Indian Railways, by introducing populist measures in the rail budget amid the impact of sixth pay commission and the economic slowdown.
Banerjee, who will present the railway budget for 2009-10 in Parliament on 3 July aspires to make rail travel cheaper for passengers but may find it difficult to generate revenues from other sources.
There has already been a steep drop in freight earnings in the first two months of the current fiscal and she might have to announce incentives to achieve the loading target of 920 MT. That makes her job of generating revenues for railways all the more difficult.
Railways have been further impacted by the Sixth Pay Commission recommendations.
A source in the Ministry said, “The three per cent growth in freight earnings the railways achieved during the first two months this fiscal is far less than the over eight per cent growth it registered in previous years for the same period.”
During April and May this year, the railways posted only 2.84% earnings carrying 141.64 million tonnes of revenue earning freight as compared to 137.73 million tonnes actually carried during the corresponding period last year.
Railway might blame it on the recession but some officials feel that it is also losing earnings on the passenger front due to the persistent cuts in fares by Banerjee’s predecessor Lalu Prasad.
In the February Interim Budget this year, Prasad had announced two per cent cut in AC fares.
Mamata is unlikely to touch the fares this time but has to fulfil her promise of issuing monthly pass at Rs20 for vendors and students, an announcement she made after assuming office.
Sources said unless avenues of revenue generation are activated, railways might face difficulty in keeping the operating cost under control. The minister will have to do a tightrope walk to balance the budget, they said.
The budget is likely to focus on improving passenger amenities and quality of food served in trains and stations.