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No fare hike: Trivedi's Rail Budget to bear Didi stamp

Last updated on: January 6, 2012 09:59 IST

No fare hike: Trivedi's Rail Budget to bear Didi stamp

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Kavita Chowdhury in New Delhi

The ruling from Kolkata is clear: no increase in railway passenger fares under any circumstances.

While Trinamool Congress leader and Railways Minister Dinesh Trivedi is described by ministry officials as 'smart' and 'quick on the uptake', political compulsions are likely to trump his personal conviction on the need to raise fares.

As the minister three years in a row, TMC chief Mamata Banerjee had ensured there was no hike in passenger fares despite the government and the Prime Minister himself urging financial prudence rather than populism.

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Image: Dinesh Trivedi being sworn in as the Railway Minister.


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With the Railway Budget exercise having started in earnest already, the challenge before Trivedi would be to balance the requirements of the railways in the red and the political demands of his party, which is 'against any discomfort to the common man'.

Railway board officials have urged the minister to depart from the populist norm that has ensured no fare hike for close to a decade.

"If we are not allowed to increase our revenues through a hike in passenger tariff for the general and second class, we will be forced to hike freight rates," said a senior railway official.

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Image: Former Railway Minister and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
Photographs: Reuters

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No fare hike: Trivedi's Rail Budget to bear Didi stamp

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Significantly, Trivedi has kept mum whenever the issue of a passenger fare hike has been raised.

An official involved in the budget process said Trivedi was keen to present a 'budget with a long-term vision, not limited to just a year'.

He is also intent on 'modernisation'; for instance, a proposal for high-speed trains doing 160-200 kmph.

This year's Budget could see the minister present the findings of the project feasibility report on high-speed trains, announced in the 2011 budget.

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Image: A sniffer dog of Railway police checks passengers' bags inside compartment of Kolkata Metro.
Photographs: Jayanta Shaw/Reuters
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The Railway Board has already had meetings with the general managers of all zones to ascertain the investment proposals for each.

Of the 2,000-odd proposals received, about one-third are now in the process of being shortlisted based on the resources available.

"As we are constrained for resources, we have decided to emphasise on two crucial areas -- increasing the throughput i.e. a higher level of traffic on existing infrastructure, and on greater safety," said a senior official.

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Image: Passengers geting down at Churchgate station in Mumbai.
Photographs: Rediff Archives

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To increase throughput, officials plan to focus on the construction of grid separators and better signalling.

Significantly, Trivedi took over at a time when a spate of accidents had marred the ministry's image.
The minister, officials say, has made safety his top priority.

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Image: People search the mangled carriages of a derailed Kalka Mail.
Photographs: Jitendra Prakash/Reuters
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"Safety is not to be compromised. It is okay for trains to be delayed but no accidents should occur," the minister is learned to have said.

While new trains, like the Duranto, were a hallmark of Banerjee's Rail Budgets, ministry officials are not keen on a rise in the number of new trains ministers announce to meet political ends.

"From 30 trains a year being introduced a decade back, it has now become as many as 200 a year," an official lamented.


Image: Duranto Express.


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