New Delhi: Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal on Friday made it clear that there will be no further hike in the near future in reservation or cancellation charges, though cross subsidy from freight to passenger segment has touched Rs 25,000 crore.
He also pressed for bringing down the operating ratio (amount spent to earn every Rs 100) from the current level of 88.8 per cent to 80 per cent by bringing efficiency in resource utilisation and for expansion of railway services including infrastructure.
Replying to the debate in Rajya Sabha on Railway Budget 2013-14, he justified the hike in the fares effected on January 21 and said it was "inevitable" as it had come after 12 years. "People have largely accepted the hike", he said urging members to accept it as the need of the hour.
His speech was disrupted by Opposition parties including TMC with party leader Derek O'Brien staging a walk out after accusing the Minister of giving a short shrift to the demands of better rail connectivity in the Jungal Mahal area in West Bengal.
"UPA does not do any kind of discrimination against any state," the Minister asserted.
"I was accused of raising the fares through backdoor and was criticised for it. But I want to say that it was a minimum fare hike. They accuse me of raising the fare by 25 per cent. This is, however, a marginal hike as in real terms it is only a hike of Rs 2 for a person travelling up to 100 km. The bus fare has in the meantime gone up several folds," he said.
Bansal also it clear that "we are not raising (the fare) any more", despite pressure on Railways due to the hike in diesel prices, which had wiped out its net additional gain by Rs 3300 crore.
He said the cross subsidy has touched Rs 25,000 crore in the passenger segment.
Referring to the recent hike in reservation and cancellation charges, he said it was necessary to deter the touts as they were selling tickets of Rs 500 at Rs 1500.
He spoke about setting up of a Rail Tariff Authority to suggest fare revision in freight and passenger fares, subject to Parliament approval.
The House later approved the budget.
Bansal said the Rail Tariff Authority proposal is currently at the inter-ministerial discussion stage and a cabinet note will be prepared after consensus.
"Whether its recommendation will be binding in nature or not, Parliament has to decide. Law needs to be amended for this," he said.
Noting several areas are still not connected by Railway, he said the untouched areas are being brought on the rail map.
A majority of these projects are in North Eastern states, besides in Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh.
On the issue of freight rate hike, he said that the 5.7 percent hike in the Rail Budget as per the Fuel Adjustment Component (FAC) had become necessary as there was a combined impact of hike in fuel prices and electricity tariff.
"...We had to impose FAC on the freight but now the cross subsidy from freight to passenger service has increased to Rs 25,000," he said though he wondered if the cross subsidisation was "logically justified".
"If we raise the freight rates, it affects the society, but we have to see how long we can continue with the cross subsidisation in passenger services," he said.
He stressed the need for internal generation of resources for expansion of rail network.
Defending the hike in passenger surcharges, he said the move was aimed at keeping the touts at bay.
"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. This menace had to be stopped," he said.
Bansal pinned much hope on the ambitious Dedicated Freight Corridor project which he said will not only help in ensuring better freight traffic movement but ease pressure from the existing network.
"It will be a national pride if the project is completed on time," he said, adding, it will take four years to complete the corridor from the date of awarding of contract.
The Railway Minister announced raising eight more Railway Protection Force (RPF) companies of women from the four at present. Each company would have around 100 personnel.
He also said that the process of recruitment of 1.52 lakh staff in various categories will be completed this fiscal.
Bansal said though the Kakodkar Committee had suggested no new train, they decided to introduce new trains in this Budget keeping the public demand in mind.
He announced an eight-coach MEMU train from Bina to Bhopal which will run soon. The Durg-Chhapra express, he said would now to extended to Gondia on one side and to Muzaffarnagar at the other end. Besides, a new train will be introduced between Durg and Chhapra keeping in mind the huge public demand.
A new train between Nagpur and Ajmer will be introduced, he said, adding the Indore-Gwalior express would also be extended to Jhansi.
He also announced making the Delhi Sarai Rohilla-Sri Ganganagar a regular train from a tri-weekly express.
Work on the Chhota Udaipur-Dhar and Dahod-Indore project will be expedited along with some other projects like Meerut- Muzaffarnagar doubling work.
He said Maha Vir Chakra, Param Vir Chakra and Gallantry awardees could now avail first class travel facility in trains and these awardees need not come to DRM office for renewing their complimentary passes.
"We are trying to simplify the renewal system so that they could do it at their nearest station and need not travel to the DRM office.