New Delhi: Accusing the government of making "bogus claims" in the Railway Budget, the Opposition on Thursday said though there was no proposal to hike fares and freight rates, there was every possibility for it to do so like in the previous year.
Initiating a discussion on Railway Budget in the Lok Sabha, K C Venugopal (Cong) alleged that "compulsion" of assembly polls in five states in the coming days has prevented the government from hiking fares and charges now, though the bureaucracy supports such a move.
Accusing the government of making "bogus claims" as there was no proposal to hike passenger fares and freight charges in the budget, he said like last year, charges on various counts like cancellation and Tatkal charges were hiked during the year.
Such charges were increased six times and the last hike was as recently as in December last, he said.
Accusing the Railway Ministry of lacking transparency, Venugopal wondered how the government will fund the proposed spendings on infrastructure. While Rs 1 lakh crore has been set aside for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train, little has been earmarked for major projects like signalling and quality travel for passengers, he said.
On a lighter vein, Congress leader and former Railway Minister Mallikarjun Kharge said bullet train was necessary as Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu will have to travel frequently to Ahmedabad from Mumbai to consult Prime Minister Narendra Modi. While Prabhu is from Maharashtra, Modi is from Gujarat.
Prabhu intervened to say that the bullet train project was initiated by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Narendra Modi government was only taking it forward.
Venugopal quoted former Delhi Metro chief E Sreedharan as saying that nothing has been done on signalling his recommendation to Railway Ministry to devolve financial powers to the lower rung. It has not been incorporated in the budget.
Earlier just ahead of the discussion, Congress and AAP members pointed out that Prabhu was not in the House which was against the convention.
TMC's Ratna De Nag, who was presiding over the proceedings, said Prabhu was in Rajya Sabha and would be in the Lower House shortly. His deputy Manoj Sinha was present. Harsh Vardhan was the only Cabinet minister present then.
When Kantilal Bhuria (Cong) insisted that Prabhu be called, the Chair said since Congress does not want to initiate the debate in the absence of the minister, she would call another member.
At this, Venugopal agreed to commence the debate with a protest not that Prabhu was not present. The Railway Minister came in a little later.