His first Rail Budget last year was low on sops for the passengers. This year, Suresh Prabhu and his Indian Railways sought to compensate for that by bringing in a slew of new, passenger-friendly initiatives. With five states going to polls this year and Uttar Pradesh slated to vote early next year, the initiatives are viewed as Prabhu’s way of trying out populism.
Uttar Pradesh, incidentally, saw a 13 per cent jump in state-wise allocation of money this budget. In the past three budgets UP has seen a combined allocation of Rs 10,215 crore (Rs 4,923 this year) for new lines, gauge conversion, doubling and other works — whereas under the UPA-II the overall allocation was around Rs 5,500 crore. Minister of State Manoj Sinha, sources said, can claim credit for increased allocation to UP, his home state. Apart from that, many new services were on offer.
Humsafar, Tejas and Uday are his new offerings. These are superfast trains meant to topple the Rajdhanis and the Shatabdis in being the best value proposition on Indian Railways.
Humsafar will be fully air-conditioned third AC service with an optional service for meals. Tejas, Prabhu said, “will showcase the future of train travel in India”. They will run at speeds of 130 kmph and above with onboard services such as entertainment, local cuisine, WiFi through one service provider for ensuring accountability and improved customer satisfaction. Ticket to Humsafar and Tejas may be costlier than ordinary superfast trains and Prabhu added that Tejas will run on tariffs that mean to recover the cost. UDAY, short for Utkrisht Double-Decker Air-conditioned Yatri Express — will be double decker overnighters on the busiest routes, which run with 40 per cent more carrying capacity than conventional trains.
Antodaya Express — basically the Janasadharan Express repackaged — will be all general class, unreserved coaches plying long distance, meant for the poor. Similarly, the Deen Dayalu scheme (named after the RSS ideologue) will see augmentation of existing trains with two to four general class coaches on popular routes.
The bandwidth available with railways to do much on these is limited considering a huge number of available general coaches are already in circulation as temporary and permanent augmentations.
Prabhu has also introduced for the first time a version of “affirmative action” in berth allotment in favour of senior citizens and ladies — a leaf straight out of populism through rail Budgets.
As much as 33 per cent berths in reserved coaches will be earmarked for women whereas senior citizens will have 50 per cent more quota in lower berths in trains.
There are soft features as well. Rail Mitra Seva for escorting the old and the disabled passengers and Janani Sewa will see trains offering food and essentials like hot milk and diapers for children. There are plans for optional travel insurance as well although the details are yet to be worked out. There will be FM radio on certain trains and better looking SMART coaches this year as well. Prabhu said the 139 phone service will also be open to cancelling tickets.