Friday, February 25, 2011

Mamata\'s populist Railway Budget, no hike in fares for the 8th year in a row

February 25, 2011,New Delhi:

Mamata Banerjee\'s Rail Budget 2011 surprises for packing no surprise. The Railways is severely cash-strapped, but many new projects have been announced and there have been no fare hikes, for Didi has her eyes fixed firmly on the West Bengal elections and in fact, in a world where nothing really gets cheaper, there is a decrease in ticket booking charges - Rs. 10 for AC class, Rs. 5 for sleeper.

There is also a new metro coach factory in Singur and four other projects, please note West Bengal. And 15 new suburban trains and 34 new Metro services for Kolkata. No surprises again that the Opposition was duly up in arms at the mention of Kolkata and West Bengal. After repeated attempts at disruptions Didi admonished \"Enough is enough.\"

She has also announced nine new Duronto trains, three new Shatabdis and 56 new express trains. The run of 33 trains will be extended and the frequency of 17 will be increased. Mumbai gets 47 new suburban train services. In Chennai, nine more services. Two additional services on the Delhi-Ghaziabad sections and new services for Hyderabad, Patna and other centres have been announced. Mamata was at pains to point out that these were not places in West Bengal.

The Railway Minister\'s Budget claims there is a focus on rail safety, which the opposition has soundly thrashed as just not enough. Among other measures Mamata has promised to do away with all unmanned crossings in Financial Year 2012. And will install anti-collision devises to cover eight of the 17 railway zones in the country.

Another consumer focused measure is the announcement of a multipurpose Go-India smartcard to buy tickets.

So much for the applause. The difficult part of Mamata\'s Budget is the financials. At the receiving end of much flak for the Railways\' poor fiscal state, Mamata admitted that the \"Railways is going through a financially difficult phase.\"

And a populist budget aimed at elections hasn\'t helped.

Mamata Banerjee has said that the financial health is likely to revive in FY \'12. Railway earnings are set to top Rs1 lakh crore mark in FY \'12. The FY \'12 total working expenses are seen at Rs. 96,400 crore and the operating ratio is pegged at 91.1 per cent. A high operating ratio means low profitability for the Railways.

The Rail Minister said her strategy was two pronged - rapid growth of 8 to 9% along with an \"acute sense of social responsibility.\"

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had few words to say in reaction to the Rail Budget. He described it as a \"common man\'s budget,\"and lauded his minister for announcing \"increased investment in critical areas of infrastructure.\"

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