Same new trains, same old Budget

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If today’s Rail Budget was an opportunity for Mamata Banerjee, poll-bound in West Bengal, to sign out of Rail Bhavan on a note of reform and change, she was in no mood to take it. Banerjee played safe and predictable in a largely populist budget which contained few fresh ideas.

As had been anticipated, and for the third time in a row in UPA II, Banerjee did not increase passenger fares and freight rates — even though the Railways have been losing over Rs. 15,000 crore every year on their passenger business.

Railway Board officials had calculated that a 10 per cent fare hike in some classes could earn the Railways close to Rs. 2,000 crore. “But when our annual losses are Rs. 15,000 crore, Rs. 2,000 crore would not have made much of a difference. Instead, we have brought smiles to millions of people for whom trains are the only viable mode of travel,” said a senior Board official.

More importantly, no increase in fares will help Banerjee keep her “unblemished” record — if, as her supporters believe, she takes power in Kolkata later this year.

Expectedly, Banerjee announced a slew of new trains — 56 Express trains, 3 Shatabdis, 9 Durontos. In continuation of her previous budget speeches, she announced several factories — a bridge factory in Jammu and Kashmir, a state-of-the-art Institute for Tunnel and Bridge Engineering at Jammu, a Diesel Locomotive Centre in Manipur, a Centre of Excellence in Software at Darjeeling under the aegis of Centre for Railway Information Systems (CRIS), Rail Industrial Parks at Jellingham and New Bongaigaon, and a 700 MW gas-based power plant at Thakurli in Maharashtra.


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