Presenting the interim and final Rail Budget of UPA-II ahead of the general elections, Railway Minister Mallikarjun Kharge announced 73 new long-distance trains and 19 new lines and no fare hike.
Kharge’s new-train sops surpassed those of former Railway Minister Lalu Prasad, who, in the UPA-I government’s interim Rail Budget of 2009 had promised 43 new trains. Facing election, Kharge chose not to propose any increase in fare and freight.
A highly optimistic projection of Rs 1.6 lakh crore has been made in revenue — around Rs 20,000 crore more than this year —in the next financial year, and a surplus target of Rs 10,538 crore for next year.
The Railways will start Jai Hind Express to enhance revenue. For now, 17 of these non-stop, “premium” superfast trains will run on the busiest sectors and have dynamic pricing like airlines, fare going up with demand. Only confirmed tickets will be sold and advance reservation will be for 15 days. Railways expects to earn at least 50 per cent more than what it earns from Rajdhanis.
There will be semi-high-speed trains on existing tracks with current rolling stock — on Delhi-Chandigarh and Delhi — Agra routes at speeds of 160-200 km per hour.
The Centre has granted only Rs 29,000 crore as Gross Budgetary Support — Rs 3,000 crore more than last year — and Rs 6000 crore is to be spent on projects in Kashmir and the Northeast. The Annual Plan for 2014-15 envisages investment of Rs 64,305 crore.
Kharge’s maiden budget speech was cut short by the din created by MPs from Andhra Pradesh protesting division of the state. MPs from Kerala from both Congress and Left protested saying the Palakkad Rail Coach Factory did not find any mention. Amid chaos, which saw an Andhra Pradesh MP snatching documents from the Lok Sabha Secretary General and tearing them up, Kharge could barely be heard.
With BJP criticising the budget for lack of vision, Kharge said the NDA had never spent as much as UPA on rail connectivity, especially in the Northeast. Kashmir found mention with soon-to-be-opened line between Udhampur and Katra (stoppage for Viashno Devi shrine) to get long-distance trains from Bangalore, Mumbai, Kolkata and Ahmedabad. Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya will get new lines by March-end.
The new trains are largely divided between Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh, states Kharge and his junior ministers Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and K Suryaprakash Reddy belong to.