Poll-bound govt may go in for soft Rail Budget

Bansal likely to up fares to boost infrastructure

The Railway Budget of Pawan Kumar Bansal may reflect an endeavour on the part of the UPA government to present a positive picture of the largest public sector enterprise of the country but the possible promise of quality service – clean stations, good meal and speedy tracks – may also bring in a hike in fares in the form of surcharges.

The Congress has regained the control of the ministry after a long gap of 16 years and the fact that it has to face general election next year will certainly have some bearing on the ensuing rail budget.

Bansal is likely to present a soft budget and the UPA government is expected to render more budgetary support. Last year, the ministry had budgetary support of Rs 24,000 crore. This year, the rail ministry is believed to have demanded Rs 38,000 crore. Sources in the ministry claim that the Finance Ministry has agreed to grant a major part of the demand.

One of the important aspects of the Railway Budget would be increased partnership with the states in the implementation of new projects. The new railway minister may try to make his mark by introducing new elements in infrastructure and service, including catering, safety and development of railway stations.

Bansal has already expressed his willingness to put in place a better monitoring system for catering. This is to be supplemented by establishment of more base kitchens across the country.

Safety sector will have new and modern equipments.
Increase of speed on tracks may be done through introduction of EMU trains on long tracks. Number of coaches in some trains are also likely to be increased.

Rail officials suggested that Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh’s nod for using
Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employement Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) in civil works for constructing approach roads, afforestation around stations, construction of
ponds may prove to be financially helpful to railways.

However, ministry sources reveal that politics on tracks will continue as usual. Sonia Gandhi’s constituency is going to have a wheel factory in a joint venture with Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Limited.

The railways will provide land, water, electricity. Some other projects are also likely to be announced for her constituency in the Budget.

West Bengal projects are languishing owing to the alleged “non-cooperation” of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, hence new projects are unlikely.

However, Minister of State Adhir Ranjan Choudhary is expected to strive to ensure resources for the ongoing projects. In introducing new trains and converting gauge, political considerations will be paramount. Congress ruled states are likely to get more than others.

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