Rail journey to cost more; Bansal hints at further surcharge hike on bookings
New Delhi: Justifying the hike in charges on various counts announced recently, Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal on Wednesday hinted at further increase in surcharge on bookings and cancellations for balanced development of the country's largest transporter which has "limited resources".
Replying to a debate on the Rail Budget 2013-14 in the Lok Sabha amid a walkout by Opposition parties, Bansal also invited investments from corporates to improve amenities at railway stations.
Opposition parties, including the BJP, Left, JD(U), Shiv Sena, AIADMK, Trinamool Congress and BJD, walked out accusing the Railway Minister of focussing only on Congress-ruled states and ignoring the others.
Bansal said his Ministry would focus on spending "limited resources" on rail safety and better services during the year and modernise stations through corporate help.
On further hike in cancellation and reservation charges, he said "ticket bookings are open for 120 days and these agents buy the tickets in bulk and sell them for 119 days and return the unsold ones on the last day. These charges will have to be increased gradually to tackle this menace and ensure that genuine travellers get tickets to travel."
The Rail Budget, presented in the House on February 26, made an upward revision of reservation fee and supplementary charge for superfast trains that will mean an increase ranging from Rs 5 on the second class to Rs 25 on AC 1st and Executive Class. Freight charges were also hiked by 5.8 percent.
Referring to hike in fares and freight charges, Bansal said these steps were taken to maintain the rolling stock and generate revenue in line with recommendations of the Kakodkar and Pitroda committees and the Planning Commission.
Bansal specifically referred to Trinamool Congress criticism that nothing was done for West Bengal and said the allocations made last year could not be spent as the works meant for the state were not carried out.
Countering opposition charges about discrimination against non-Congress-ruled states, he said, "We cannot indulge in financial profligacy. ... We can't indulge in the luxury which was resorted to earlier."
"There is no discrimination. We want a balanced development of the railways for the entire country," he said.
"There was no hike in fares and charges in the last 12 years. ... There was criticism inside the House, but not outside," Bansal claimed, adding that the bulk of rail travellers, who did not travel by air-conditioned coaches, were the "least affected" by the increase.
About 2.3 crore people travelled by trains daily and the reservation category was just five percent of total tickets, while the increase was 15 percent only, he said.
Observing that provision of better services, cleanliness and catering would be the focus, he said over 600 model stations had already been created and the Ministry has decided to take the help of corporates in this process.
"Those corporate houses which spend over Rs two crore to provide facilities in a railway station, will have a plaque in their name," he said.
The Minister also announced 19 new trains to be introduced soon and extension of some others in addition to those declared in the budget. These include Delhi-Trivandrum Express, Tata-Vizag Express, Mumbai-Karaikal Express and Chhapra-Anand Vihar Express, besides Yeshwantpur-Secunderabad Tri-weekly.
On the Dedicated Freight Corridor project, he said "tangible" progress has been made and 86 percent of land on the Eastern Corridor had been acquired.
The World Bank, which is funding the three-phased work on the corridor construction, has already spent USD 975 million on the first phase, Bansal said, adding work on the Kanpur- Khurja segment would begin "immediately" and the project would be completed in four years.
Focusing on improvement of amenities at stations, Bansal said 980 stations have been identified to be developed as Adarsh stations.
Out of 980, work has been completed in 632 stations and 60 more stations including Abu Road, Bhatinda, Bijnor have been added in the list.
Admitting the need for improving the catering services, Bansal said a tollfree number has been provided to lodge complaints regarding catering.
Since the launch of tollfree number, many complaints have been registered and Rs 73 lakh has been realised from catering contractors.
Referring to the 3,321-km long Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC), Bansal said, "There is a tangible progress in Eastern DFC (Ludhiana to Dankuni). World Bank has agreed to provide loans to the eastern corridor in three phases and an agreement has been signed accordingly."
Some portions are being executed by Railways and some on PPP mode, Bansal said.
Drawing attention of SP supremo Mulayam Singh, the Railway Minister said funds have been allocated for the 57-km long Etawah-Mainpuri line. "I assure that the project will be executed expeditiously and provision for necessary budgetary allocation will be made."
For Bihar, Bansal said funds for two bridge projects over the Ganga river have been hiked in the budget. "While fund for Ganga bridge at Patna has been hiked to Rs 180 crore, that for the Munger bridge has been raised to Rs 175 crore," he said.
He said the wheel factory in Bihar is also going on full steam.
On Palghat coach factory, he said it will be executed through joint venture/PPP mode and RITES have been appointed as consultant for the project.
On Mumbai Urban Transportation Project (MUTP), he said steps have been taken to complete the project by 2016.
Bansal, however, did not favour more stoppages for Shatabdi, Rajdhani or other mail/express trains as this would affect their speed.
He said all heritage trains and stations will be protected by railways. "Our endeavour is to preserve all our heritage properties," he said.
Referring to Toy Train service in Darjeeling hills, Bansal said the service has been stopped due to landslides and efforts were on revive the line.
The budget was later passed by the Lok Sabha by a voice vote in the absence of the opposition.
On railway's finances, Bansal said the Operating Ratio (OR) target has been set at 87.8 per cent for 2013-14 as against 88.8 percent in the current fiscal. "Ultimately, we want to achieve an OR target of 80 per cent in the coming years."
Referring to reports of the Kakodkar and Pitroda committees which recommended massive upgradation of rail infrastructure including safety, Bansal said the current requirement for implementing these proposals would cost Rs 10 lakh crore.
He also announced complete stoppage of manual scavenging and said, "We are moving towards DRDO-approved bio-toilet system in all trains gradually." It would cost about Rs 40-45 lakh per bio-toilet for retrofitting them in old coaches.
On surplus railway land, he said vacant land along the rail tracks will be needed for expansion in due course.
Focussing on improvement of amenities at stations, Bansal said 980 stations were identified to be developed as Adarsh stations and work on 632 of them have been completed.
Drawing attention of SP supremo Mulayam Singh, the Railway Minister said funds have been allocated for the 57 km long Etawah-Mainpuri line. "I assure (members) that the project will be executed expeditiously and provision for necessary budgetary allocation made."