Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu on Thursday spared passengers from any hike in fares but made changes in freight rates to rake in more money while ruling out privatization.
Presenting the first full-fledged Rail Budget of the PM Narendra Modi led government for 2015-16, he made adjustments in freight rates that exempted salt but would hike rates on carriage of cement, coal and coke, iron or steel and petroleum products.
The Budget also revised the commodity classification and distance slabs for carriage of commodities that can raise freight rates upto 10 per cent in some of the items.
The Minister did not project any figures that will accrue out of the adjustment in freight rates to be effective from April 1 this year.
“I have not increased passenger fares. We are directing our efforts to make travel on Indian railways a happy experience with a mix of various initiatives,” he said as he laid out 11 major thrust areas of railways in the coming financial year.
He did not announce any new trains saying on the ground that a review was on about the capacity to add more trains which will be announced after the review is over. The Railway Minister said that feasibility report of high speed train between Mumbai and Ahmadabad is expected by mid-2015 which will be equivalent to the bullet train in terms of designing.
Making the railways safe for women, Minister Suresh Prabhu said that a 24×7 Railway helpline number — 138 will become operational, a toll free number — 182 will be setup for security related complaints, and CCTVs will be introduced in select trains and suburban trains for women safety.
Against the backdrop of talk of privatization of railways, the Minister said that the Railways will continue to be a precious national asset and people of India will own railways always.
Prabhu said over the next five years, Railways envisages an investment of Rs 8.5 lakh crore for which a broad indicative investment plan has been prepared.
“But the scale of investment needs is such that it will require us to seek multiple sources of funding. We will tap other sources of finance. Multilateral development banks and pension funds have expressed keen interest in financing new investments. . . . They seek sources of predictable and recurring revenue, which we can provide through the issuance of long debt instruments to fund revenue-generating railway projects,” the Minister said.
The 11 thrust areas of railways include cleanliness, new toilets covering 650 new stations, bio-toilets, designing of bed linen by national fashion technology, and a 24×7 helpline number for security related complaints.
A plan named ‘Operation five minutes’ will be introduced for issuing unreserved tickets besides other initiatives like hot buttons, coin vending machines and concessional e-tickets for differently-abled passengers, he said.
E-catering will be launched for select meals from an array of choices alongwith facility of ordering of food through IRCTC websites at the time of booking tickets and integrating best food chains into the project, the minister said.
The Railway Minister said that the pace of digitisation and electrification will be increased; open Wi-Fi will be available at 400 railway stations; four dedicated freight corridors would be completed this year; 6608 kms of track would be electrified.
He also added that govt will also take assistance from the foreign railway technology scheme to improve the Indian railways.
Prabhu proposed that Rs 6,750 crore will be allocated for eliminating 3,438 level crossings and in the future 970 roads-under bridge and road-over Bridge are to be constructed.
More general class coaches will be added in identified trains and more AC EMU services will be started for Mumbai suburban section. Projects worth Rs. 96,182 crore will be started to expand capacity of 9,420 km rail lines, he said.
To avoid problems faced in reserving tickets, the Railway minister said that tickets can now be booked 120 days ahead of travel date, instead of 60 days.