New Delhi: After presenting his first railway budget, Mallikarjun Kharge on Wednesday said he was not for populism but wanted to be "realistic" to ensure that the national transporter thrives for the people of the country.
"I do not want to compete with anybody for popularity or in populist measures. I am really interested in the growth of railways and it should give facility to passengers and the Railways should survive for people of the country and its common citizens," Kharge said outside parliament after presenting the interim Rail Budget 2014-15.
His response came when it was pointed out that the then Railway Minister Lalu Prasad had announced a reduction of passenger fares by 2 per cent in the interim rail budget in 2009.
Passenger fares and freight rates were left untouched today in the interim rail budget, which talks about plans about involvement of private sector and FDI as part of efforts to modernise the largest transport network in the country.
"I want to be realistic and railways should sustain, it should give service to all the people. That is our motive," he said.
Describing the budget as "growth oriented", he said "whatever was possible in the interim budget, we have tried to do that. We have not increased passenger fares or freight rates in the interim budget. Whatever resources could be mobilised in the existing system, we have tried to utilise that."
On the premier trains with dynamic fares, he said "some earnings are required as without earnings we cannot give facilities to passengers. That is why 17 premier trains will be pressed into service. Whatever we will earn from these 17 trains, the earnings will help in running other 56 trains."
Kharge had announced launching of 73 trains in his maiden rail budget out of which 56 are regular trains and 17 premier trains named as Jai Hind Express.
Regular passenger fares will not be applicable in Jai Hind Express trains as these will be operational on dynamic fares which means fares will be decided on the basis of demand.
"This will also help in eliminating the touts. So whatever we will earn in these 17 premier trains, the benefit will be passed onto the passengers of 56 trains," Kharge said.
Jai Hind Express trains that will run in 17 routes but 56 trains will run for common people. In these 56 trains the fare will remain the same.
Asked whether Minister's power of deciding fares was taken away after the formation of rail tariff authority (RTA), he said, "It was never with Minister. It was Railway Board which used to decide on it. After the RTA formation, all stakeholders, passengers, transporters, industrialists will have representations in deciding the fare in freight and passenger sector."
Defending the RTA decision, he said, "RTA will suggest whatever is economically feasible and should not burden the people. So if a third party suggests some thing, then it will be easier to implement. So no one can say it was an irrational decision."
Asked about criticism of his budget by BJP, he said "I wanted to ask that NDA government was in the power for six years. So how could we spend Rs 35000 crore in the Northeast projects? How it was possible?"
He said though it was an interim budget, certain measures were announced which could have been given in normal conditions. "We have tried to utilise the idle rakes, bogies and coaches and announced some new trains."
Listing out the work done in the last ten years of UPA rule, Kharge said "it is a growth oriented budget. UPA has done a lot in the last 10 years in the rail sector like doubling, electrification, gauge conversion and new lines, station improvement and rail factories. It has never done before."
Mentioning the crucial role of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in granting generous fund for railways, the minister said, "the PM has given special fund and increased gross budgetary support. Northeast projects got Rs 35,000 crore in the last 10 years. So one can imagine how much importance was given for the development of interior and distant places and border areas."
For Jammu and Kashmir, he said "tunnels were made in hilly and inaccessible areas. Trains are now reaching areas like Qazigund and Banihal."
Highlighting the importance of Katra rail link, Kharge said, "Katra-Udhampur line is also complete now and trial is going on and train will be operational soon."
He said the purpose of connecting Kashmir to Kanyakumari by rail is going to be fulfilled when Katra line will be operational.
For high speed train, he said "we are going ahead with Japan's cooperation on the proposed Mumbai-Ahmedabad sector and a survey work is going on for this."
Acknowledging that not all areas have got new trains, he said, "Whatever areas are left out for new trains or rail connectivity, it can be taken up later also as this was only an interim budget, whatever was possible, it was done."