No trains in the current budget and amenities get big boost
GN Bureau | February 26, 2015
Even while invoking the almighty ‘prabhu’ on bring his ministry back on rails; Suresh Prabhu unveiled a five-point programme on reforms and governance.
As he presented the railway budget for 2015 Prabhu announced the operating ratio target of 88.5 per cent for the next fiscal. “I asked, Hey Prabhu! How will all this happen,” the minister said during the beginning of his budget speech to the amusement of those in attendance.
Operating ratio is the amount of money spent to earn every Rs 100 and is a key indicator of railways financial health. The operating ratio target for the current financial year was 91.8 per cent.
Prabhu said his ministry will work on five key “drivers of action” – adopting a medium term perspective planning including a new White Paper; building partnerships with PSUs and funding agencies; Leveraging funding opportunities including Pension Funds; revamping management practices and systems; and setting standards for governance and transparency.
The rail ministry will spend over Rs 8.5 lakh crore over the next five years in a host of areas including capacity augmentation, modernization, passenger amenities and safety but will not hike passenger fares, Prabhu announced, highlighting the political sensitivity associated with tinkering with railway fares.
For a change the minister resisted the temptation to announce new trains or extension of services in his budget for 2015-16. He also did not increase passenger fares.
This is perhaps the first time in many years that the railways have not announced any new train in the budget. The minister however assured his colleagues in parliament that he will take requests from all MPs over the next few days and review them before announcing any new train.
Prabhu also announced a slew of passenger facilities including mobile application for complaints, water vending machines in major stations, CCTVs cameras in some long-distance trains and EMUs.
The railway minister also announced that surplus coaches from trains which are running on low capacity will be rationalised and added on lines which have high density.
Meanwhile, the daily passenger capacity of Indian railways is projected to increase from 21 million to 31 million in the next one-year, while freight capacity is expected to jump 50% from 1 billion tonnes to 1.5 billion tonnes.
Freight rates were, however, hiked in general barring high-speed diesel which was lowered by 1%. Rates were hiked by 0.8% for LPG, kerosene, 0.8% for iron & steel; 2.7% for cement, 10% for urea and 6.3% for coal.
Every year since 2000, February 21 is observed as International Mother Language Day by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). It is to celebrate linguistic and cultural diversity, and multilingualism.
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