Rail Budget 2013: From happiness to frustration, passengers react with gusto

Feb 26 2013, 22:36 IST
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'I travel in sleeper-class and the condition there is far from good.' (PTI) 'I travel in sleeper-class and the condition there is far from good.' (PTI)
SummaryMany travellers hope the Rail minister manages to fulfill his promises.

Rail Budget 2013: Passengers today were a divided house, but in their reactions, they were very vocal - good or bad. While a section welcomed the Budget as there was no fare hike, others expressed unhappiness over trains not being announced to their home towns.

R D Thakur, who frequents Delhi from his hometown Sitamarhi in Bihar, says there are no direct trains from there.

"I have to travel a long distance by bus to some other station each time when I have to visit Delhi for my work. I hope a train is introduced from there as well," Thakur said.

Commenting on the government's announcement to lay stress on cleanliness in the trains as well as platforms, Thakur hoped that this time the promises are met.

"I travel in sleeper-class and the condition there is far from good. The AC coaches are better. I hope the government keeps its promises regarding hygiene and cleanliness of the non-AC coaches also," he said.

Minjo Lama from Assam also complained regarding less number of trains available on Delhi-Assam route. Lama was of the view that there was no problem in fare hike if the delivery of services meets expectations.

Under development of stations was another area of concern among passengers.

Veena Gupta, a senior citizen, mentioned the problems she faced while reaching the platform in New Delhi railway station.

"The escalators are mostly not working and I have to climb the stairs each time with my luggage in hand," she said.

The Railway Ministry in its Budget today announced 400 lifts and 179 escalators in Category one stations.

Referring the government's decision to hike the Tatkal charges by Rs 15 on sleeper-class to Rs 100 on executive-class, Gupta said the low income group should have been spared from this hike.

Others passengers were satisfied with the announcement of the new e-ticketing system and most of them said that the present IRCTC website be made more user friendly.

Regarding security issues, H K Maheshwari, who has travelled in both sleeper and AC coaches, said no guards are deployed in the sleeper class whereas he could find them in the AC coaches.

Railway budget sets tone for austerity year


India reined in spending on its vast but decrepit rail network on Tuesday, setting the tone for what is expected to be the most austere federal budget in years in two days' time as the government struggles to tame its fiscal deficit.

Gross budgetary support for the railways will rise nearly 8 percent to 260 billion Indian rupees ($4.82 billion) in the coming fiscal year, less than half the 20 percent increase that was allocated in last year's rail budget.gra

India's railway network is the world's fourth-largest but it has suffered from years of low investment and political meddling. The result is a creaking system plagued by delays, overcrowding and slow freight delivery times that sap the competitiveness of Asia's third-largest economy.

But Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government faced the challenge of raising revenues to modernise the network without alienating voters ahead of an election due by May 2014. More than 20 million Indians use the network every day, many of them poor people who see cheap rail travel as a right.

Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal's budget defied speculation of a second round of hikes in basic passenger fares after a 21 percent increase in January. But there was a nearly 6 percent hike in freight traffic rates and additional charges on some passenger tickets, mostly for wealthier passengers.

His budget was delivered to parliament two days before Finance Minister P. Chidambaram unveils what is expected to be an austerity budget to cut India's bloated fiscal deficit, restore investor confidence and revive sagging economic growth.

"The main read-through to the Union budget is that government spending will likely rise at a slower pace and suppressed prices will be passed on to consumers, but only at a very gradual pace due to the risk of consumer backlash ahead of the elections," said Sonal Varma, an economist at Nomura.

The government increased passenger fares for the first time in a decade in January, a move aimed at raising money for a ministry that spends more than half its budget paying the salaries of 1.4 million employees and retired workers' pensions.

The last time a railway minister tried to do that - in the budget last year - he was sacked within days following a political backlash. Indian rail fares can be very cheap: it costs as little as $9 to travel the nearly 1,400 km (870 miles)from New Delhi to the financial hub, Mumbai.

Bansal promised strict fiscal discipline in his ministry during a wide-ranging speech that referred to the cleanliness of railway linen and the safety of elephants straying on to the tracks, and even included lines from a famous poem about a train puffing uphill that sings "I think I can, I think I can".

But in a sign of tougher reform measures to come further down the line, Bansal proposed partially deregulating ticket prices, linking both passenger and freight rates to the cost of diesel. Earlier this year, India began a gradual deregulation of diesel, which is currently heavily subsidised.

However, Bansal only applied the fuel-linked increase to freight fares. He did not specify when passenger fares would be hit, or when the floating mechanism will be introduced.

"It does seem that he has ... tried to toe the line between the requirement of getting points before the election and looking at a better financial position for the railways," said Jyotinder Kaur, an economist at HDFC Bank.


Bansal is the first railway minister to come from the country's ruling party in 17 years. The post is often doled out to junior partners of the ruling coalition.

Critics say successive rail ministers have used the post for political ends, laying tracks and wagon factories in their home states to win votes. This comes at the cost of upgrading a network that was mostly built before independence from Britain in 1947 and receives scant private sector investment.

The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) slammed the railway budget for promising a wheel factory in Rae Bareli, the constituency of Sonia Gandhi, the chief of the ruling Congress party who is seen as the country's most powerful politician.

A report submitted to the government last year estimated that a properly run railway network could add 1.5-2.0 percent to the country's economic growth and raised concerns about a lack of safety due to chronic under-investment.

In a reminder of the scale of the challenge Bansal faces to improve safety, riots broke out in central India on the same day as the budget speech after two children were run over by a goods train, local media reported.

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