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Rail Budget has everything for common man: Prabhu

Rail Budget has everything for common man: Prabhu
Brushing aside the Opposition charge that the Rail Budget has nothing for poor, Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu on Wednesday said it had “everything for the common man”, as he unveiled a three-pronged strategy, including an austerity drive, to revitalise the Railways.

Replying to a debate on Rail Budget in the Lok Sabha, Prabhu said: “The Budget has everything for common man...Common man is the centre of the Budget.”

The initiatives intended to benefit the common man include e-ticketing, catering on demand, bio-toilets, food for infants, better stations etc, the Minister said. Moreover, the weaker sections, including members of SC and ST would be given preference while awarding contracts for setting up stalls at railway stations.

The Lower House later passed the appropriation bills and the demands for grants in connection with the Rail Budget for 2016-17, after over a debate that witnessed participation of over 100 members.

Observing that “The Railways has been going through challenging times...(and) a real crisis accumulated over the years”, Prabhu said his three-pronged strategy was aimed at “significantly” improving the financial health of the Railways and make it a “precious asset of the nation”. The strategy to revive the Railways include augmentation of services, generation of more revenue and optimisation of cost.

Elaborating on the strategy, the Minister said he proposed to launch an “austerity drive” to reduce administrative expenses. 

Appreciating the efforts of members to sit late night on Tuesday to discuss the Rail Budget, Prabhu said MPs actually “burnt the midnight oil”, but he would not be able to fulfill all their “genuine demands” because of paucity of resources.

The effort, the Minister said, would be to raise both traditional and non-traditional resources and involve private sector through the Public Private Partnership (PPP) mode to develop stations and other services.

Responding to a suggestion by Trinamool Congress (TMC) member Sugata Bose, Prabhu said the Railways would consider having multiple stakeholders in the bids for developing stations so that good services could be provided to passengers.

The Railways, he added, would soon invite bids for developing five stations under the PPP mode and also consider involving state-owned companies in the process.

Speaking about bullet trains, Prabhu said in a lighter vein that probably the UPA had some premonition about the future Prime Minister and Railway Minister, prompting them to contemplate the country’s first bullet train between Mumbai and Ahmedabad, so that the two leaders could meet often.

Responding to concerns of the members about funds involved in introducing bullet trains, he said it would be built with Japanese funding. The Japanese government will provide soft loan with low interest rate for a period of 50 years with a moratorium of 15 years, he said, adding that it would be virtually on the self-financing mode. Prabhu said the Railways would significantly benefit from transfer of technology and other “spin-off benefits” across the organisation.

The Railways would also be seeking assistance from Japan in improving safety standards and signalling and move towards ‘zero accident’.

Raising questions over funding of bullet trains, Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge said the focus should be on increasing the speed of existing trains instead of spending huge sums on such trains.

Mechanism for revising passenger fare on the anvil: Prabhu
Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu on Wednesday said the government will put in place a new mechanism for revising passenger fares and freight rates. “Whenever you raise fare, there are more questions raised than the fare rise. Therefore, we are trying to create a new mechanism, whereby there will be a proper system that will be put in place (for revising fares), Prabhu said in the Lok Sabha. Prabhu in his Railway Budget has not increased either passenger fares or freight charges. He said the Budget has taken several steps to reform the railway system. 
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