UPA-III Superfast Bansal Express starts rolling
He may have lacked the earthy humour of Lalu Prasad Yadav, or the chutzpah of Mamata Banerjee that made the railway budget presentations livelier, but Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal on Tuesday managed to dish out a fare that would address his party’s concerns ahead of the 2014 elections, and ensure the fiscal health of the cash-strapped railways.
Bansal took the populist route by not effecting any passenger fare hike, and promised more amenities such as cleaner stations, ergonomically designed luxury coaches — to be called Anubhuti — luxury lounges at more stations, wi-fi in select trains, lifts and escalators. However, he tried to squeeze out extra money for the railways by effecting a “marginal increase” in some areas like supplementary charges for superfast trains, reservation fee, clerkage, cancellation and tatkal charges.
While, the aam aadmi travelling by second class or sleeper has been spared, AC coach travellers will have to pay between `15 and `25 extra reservation fee. Similarly, supplementary charge for all classes of superfast trains have been hiked by `5–`25 per ticket, tatkal booking fee by `25–`100, and cancellation charges by `10–`50. This revision, to be applicable from April 1, will net the ministry over `400 crore more. “This is not a fare hike,” Bansal said later, but passengers will end up paying more. He announced the linking of freight and passenger fare revision with fuel adjustment component, every six months, but left it to Parliament to take a call on it. If passed, it would mean fare revision every six months, if fuel prices go up.
Opposition MPs criticised Bansal outside Parliament for turning his maiden budget into a Rae Bareli Budget as he announced another factory for UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi’s constituency. New rail lines, announced by Bansal, ironically fell mostly in poll-bound or Congress ruled states. At the final count, 67 new express trains, 26 new passenger services, 57 extensions of trains, and frequency increase of 24 trains were announced. Skill development, Aadhar and MNREGA will have a role in the railways function, he said. Later, Aadhar may make the use of other ID proofs redundant when the railways start booking tickets using Aadhar numbers. Bansal also announced plans to fill up 1.52 lakh railway vacancies this year.