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    Rail Budget: No hike in passenger fares; Freight rates for 12 commodities increased

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    No hike in railway passenger fares, making railways a safer means of travel specially for women, improving passenger amenities including cleanliness, increasing track length by 20 per cent and raising the passenger carrying capacity from 21 to 30 million, making Railways financially self- sustainable are some of the highlights of the Railway budget 2015-16. No new trains have been announced. Presenting his maiden Rail Budget to the Parliament today, Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu proposed a hike in the freight rates for 12 commodities in the range of 0.8 per cent to 10 per cent. The proposed hike of freight rates for cement is 2.7 per cent, coal 6.3 per cent, iron and steel 0.8 per cent and urea 10 per cent.

    Some of the other highlights of the Railway Budget include an all India 24x7 helpline number 138 for passengers-related problems to become functional, proposals for e-catering to select meals, facility to order food through IRCTC website at the time of booking tickets in coming days, WI-FI facility at B class stations and mobile phone-charging facilities will be provided in general class coaches.

    Proposals to enhance safety of women passengers without compromising on privacy, as well as the introduction of operation five minutes to ensure that a passenger travelling unreserved can purchase a ticket within five minutes are some of the other features of the proposals contained in the Rail Budget. The Minister said that National Institute of Design approached to design user-friendly ladders for climbing upper berths, increasing quota of lower berths for senior citizens and middle bay of coaches to be reserved for women and senior citizens. The Railway Minister said newly-manufactured coaches will be Braille-enabled and entrances will be widened for the ease of differently-abled passengers.

    On the bullet train issue, the Minister said feasibility study for High Speed Rail between Mumbai and Ahmedabad is in an advanced stage and a report on it is expected by mid-2015. Mr Prabhu also said there will be more job opportunities by upgrading the manufacturing capability. The Minister also said that the system of on-line applications introduced for two categories of recruitment as a pilot project. This project will be extended and all possible solutions will be explored to bring in transparency and address the menace of corruption. The railway minister said that many measures have been proposed to promote tourism.

    Referring to safety measures, Mr. Prabhu said that the modern track structure consisting of sleepers and heavier rails being used while carrying out primary track renewals and train protection warning system and train collision avoidance system will be installed on select routes at the earliest.

    Mr Prabhu said his ministry will give top priority to deliver a sustained and measurable improvement in customer experience. He said initiatives are being launched that will systematically address customer concerns about cleanliness, comfort, accessibility, service quality and speed of trains. Saying the initiative to connect directly with the users through social media, Mr Prabhu said over 20, 000 suggestions were received and his ministry has started working on the feasible ones.

    Before commending the Railway Budget, the Minister invoked a quote of Swami Vivekananda, "Take up one idea. Make that idea your life - think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success". The Minister said that for him, that idea is the transformation of Indian railways.

    Railway Minister Suresh Prabhakar Prabhu said the Rail Budget for 2015-16 is progressive and development-oriented and will cater to the needs of all sections of the society. Addressing a Press Conference in Rail Bhawan, Mr Prabhu said the budget is also employment-oriented and addresses the needs of the senior citizens, farmers, ensures security for women and differently-abled people. Mr Prabhu justified action not to hike rail fares saying it is in the interest of the common man. He said 10 per cent hike in the freight structure for the Base Class-100 has been proposed to rationalize the freight rates.

    The Railway Minister announced the period of advance ticket booking will be increased from 60 days to 120 days, which will be implemented within a fortnight. He said the facility of online booking of wheelchair through IRCTC website is made available to select stations. To boost the Make In India initiative, Railways will introduce Modern Train System -- train sets -- similar to bullet trains, to be manufactured in India.

    Prime Minister Narendra Modi described the 2015 rail budget as a watershed moment for Indian Railways. Mr Modi said that the Rail budget 2015 is a forward-looking, futuristic and passenger-centric budget, combining a clear vision and a definite plan to achieve it. He said, it marks a paradigm shift from discussing coaches and trains to comprehensive railway reform. Mr Modi appreciated the rail budget, saying that it focused on the needs of common man, as passenger fares have been kept unchanged.

    Expressing happiness, Mr Modi said that for the first time, there is a concrete vision for technology upgradation and modernisation of the railways. He said the rail budget stands out for its focus on the common man, putting speed, scale, service and safety, all on one track. Mr Modi also said that the rail budget lays out a clear roadmap to make the railways the key driver of India’s economic growth and playing a key role in India’s progress.

    Opposition today criticized the Railway Budget, saying it lacked vision and a roadmap to execute the ideas it is full of. Talking to reporters outside Parliament, senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge said it is a nicely-worded budget speech. But there is no vision as to how the government is going to achieve the goals. Mr. Kharge also criticized Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu's decision not to introduce new trains.

    BSP chief Mayawati said that several new announcements have been made in the Railway Budget, but the Minister did not say how many projects announced previously have been implemented this time. She alleged that there is no development in Railways for the last nine months. Former Railway Minister and TMC leader Dinesh Trivedi termed the budget as disappointing. He told reporters that mere promises have been made in it and it lacks a proper roadmap.

    JD (U) leader Pawan Verma said the budget lacks substance. He said, there is no mention on how to upgrade technology and ensure safety in the Railways. Senior BJD leader Tathagata Satpathy also attacked the Railway budget, calling it hollow and disappointing. He said he would give only two out of ten points to it.

    The BJP, on the other hand, has appreciated the Railway Budget. Party president Amit Shah said that it has given great importance to passenger convenience and safety. Mr. Shah said that without increasing fares, the plan size has been increased to approximately 52 per cent, which is a good move.

    Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Col. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore has said that Railway budget has touched upon all major issues faced by rail passengers. In a tweet, Mr Rathore said, the budget has focussed on passenger amenities, safety, transparency and system improvement, with no fare hike.

    "Mann Ki Baat-Part V"
    22/02/15

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