Union Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal on Tuesday announced the UPA’s Railway Budget addressing his party’s concerns ahead of the 2014 elections and ensuring the fiscal health of the cash-strapped organisation.
Keeping in mind that catering to religious sentiments may come in handy during the polls, he announced trains linking key religious places such as Vaishno Devi, Shirdi (even a train from his constituency Chandigarh), Guruvayur, Tirupati, Puttaparthi and Thanjavur.
On the fiscal front, Bansal said the Railways had brought down the operating ratio to 88.8 per cent and fixed the target for 87.8 per cent for the next fiscal.
“There are no tall claims. We have kept the target realistic,” said Vinay Mittal, Chairman, Railways Board, on the performance of his boss.
Like a loyal Congressman, Bansal invoked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and even his mentor Rajiv Gandhi at the outset, during his 75-minute Budget speech. As the speech rolled out, it became clear that Bansal had combined all the flagship programmes of the UPA Government with the Railways.
Skill development, Aadhar and MNREGA all will have a role. In the final stages, the Railways will start booking all tickets using Aadhar numbers and later check through handheld devices, a Railway board member explained.
To ensure the fiscal health of the Railways, Bansal’s “reformist” Budget kept the 2013-14 targets for building new lines, doubling and conversion lower than that in last year. To raise money for his please-all Budget, Bansal announced five per cent hike in freight rates, which would help the Railways generate an additional Rs 4,400 crore.
As Express had reported, Bansal announced new projects keeping in mind strategic needs. These include: Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla; first rail network in Arunachal; plans for links such as Bilaspur-Manali-Leh; and Jammu-Poonch via Aknoor in the Himalayan region. Even a Srinagar-Kargil-Leh rail link will be explored.