Lalu’s interim rail budget to look at people’s welfare (Lead)

February 12th, 2009 - 9:35 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Feb 12 (IANS) Railways Minister Lalu Prasad is set to present to parliament the country’s interim rail budget for the next fiscal Friday, and has said he will not ignore people’s welfare - thus raising expectations that the average citizen would be spared fare hikes.
“We cannot make many new programmes in this budget, but be assured the welfare of common people will be taken care of,” Lalu Prasad told reporters Thursday.

“And please do not try to connect any announcement with the forthcoming elections. We have always been people-friendly even in the tough time of such economical crisis and will continue to do so if we come back to power again,” he said.

“Our government even in tough times has managed to sail through the economic crisis and barring Satyam episode, all remains well in this fiscal,” the minister said.

Asked whether there would be any specific announcements, Lalu Prasad said: “Let’s not jump to any conclusion and patiently wait for tomorrow (Friday). But be assured that we will not hurt common people.”

However, speculation is high that there may be announcement for more Garib Raths or air-conditioned trains for the poor - mostly in his home state Bihar - and that there would be no hike in passengers fares.

As many as 15 such trains are currently running, and their numbers are expected to be increased.

The minister presented all the five previous rail budgets for the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government since 2004, during which he set a record of sorts in terms of generating revenues despite lowering fares.

He will present an interim budget this time as elections are due soon and by convention the presentation of the regular budget in an election year is left to a new government.

“During his tenure so far, 604 new trains were introduced, in addition to 105 local trains,” a senior official at Rail Bhavan said, while Lalu Prasad was seen giving the final touches to his budget papers.

The regular rail budget presented last year reduced fares across the board besides focusing on hygiene, punctuality, new routes, better coaches and mobile ticketing.

The Indian Railways are the second largest railroad in the world under a single management, running more than 11,000 trains every day, 7,000 of which are for passengers.

The network comprises 108,706 km and ferries 14 million passengers daily from 6,853 stations across the length and breadth of the country. This is the reason why it is the only ministry that has a separate budget.

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