Railways: Lalu signals fare cuts

“A railways minister who never hiked fares,but reduced them instead.” If a single line could sum up how railways minister Lalu Prasad Yadav...

Written by Raghvendra Rao | New Delhi | Published: February 12, 2009 12:47:22 am

“A railways minister who never hiked fares,but reduced them instead.” If a single line could sum up how railways minister Lalu Prasad Yadav would like to be remembered,this would it be,says a close aide to the minister.

Having presented five consecutive railways budgets between 2004- 2008 without “directly” raising fares — in fact,making conditional fare-cuts here and there — Yadav looks all set to keep his date with history when he rises to present the interim rail budget in Lok Sabha on February 13..

Already dubbed a low-key affair by the railways ministry,the budget for this year is not likely to throw up any major surprises other than some conditional “fare cuts” in certain classes. This being an election year,the benefits of fare

cuts could go mainly to passengers traveling in Sleeper and AC 3 Tier classes.

“With the recent reduction in diesel prices,the railways may decide to pass on this benefit to the commuters,” a ministry source said. So,even as a 5- to 10-per cent fare cut could be a possibility for select trains in select periods,insiders say

the minister might just go for some token reduction of fares in certain classes. In the past,railways has gone in for reduction of Re 1

in fares of second class in non-suburban passenger trains. A similar move may well be on the cards this year.

Since no new projects are conventionally announced in an interim budget,the ministry is unlikely to announce any new-line,doubling or gauge-conversion projects this time. “However,nothing prevents us from announcing new trains,” a source added. Given Lalu’s soft corner for home-state Bihar,it may get a major chunk of the new trains including a few new Garib Raths.

The minister is also likely to announce measures to add to categories of travellers who are eligible for fare concessions. A few more new concessions for senior citizens,women and students could also be announced.

Lalu’s claim,made during last year’s budget,of leaving the ministry with a cumulative cash surplus of Rs 1,00,000 crore by the end of this fiscal,appears far from fruition. Even as the railways are set to post a10- to 12-per cent increase in passenger earnings,a slowdown in freight business,particularly in container and steel business,is expected to hit its freight carrying targets and,in turn,revenues.

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