The Railway Minister Mr.Ram Vilas Paswan began his presentation of the Indian Railway Budget for 1996-97 in the Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament) a little later than was expected. He is presenting the speech in Hindi, the national language.
The delayed Konkan Railway project which will connect Bombay and Goa by rail, is expected to be completed later this year, 6 months behind schedule.
The project was supposed to be complete by June 1996, but ran into technical difficulties in Goa. According to the railway minister, Mr. Ram Vilas Paswan, goods traffic will begin in October 1996, and passenger traffic is expected to begin two months after that.
There will be no hike in Second Class fares, which accounts for 90% of the rail travelling population, of 4 billion people per year.
10% hike in upper class fares - Air conditioned chair car, 2nd class A/C, first class and first class A/C ticket prices are up. These categories are considered elitist.
Freight rates are up by 10%, except for 15 categories of essential items including salt, sugar, kerosene, edible oils, fertilizer, cattle feed, fruits and vegetable et cetera. This is to cover a budget deficit requirement of 9.27 billion rupees.
No hike in season tickets and passes, but a 5% hike in long distance (more than 200 Km) fares.
Telephones to be available in more trains.
Three special coordinating cells reporting directly to the Railway Board, to closely monitor punctuality, passenger safety and on-board facilities.
Budgeted expenditure in railways this year will be 21.573 billion Rupees.
92% of reservations will be computerised, passenger information systems will be improved by providing telephones, electronic display boards, answering machines et cetera.
More eco-friendly public conveniences to be provided in all trains.
Plans to add pantry cars to several of the premier trains.
Five new tourist trains will be set up in collaboration with the private sector. Weekend package tours, pilgrimage specials and other such packages proposed.
Several measures to be taken to improve railway safety, including: Safer signalling systems, elimination of unmanned level crossings, and modern emergency communications facilities between train drivers and other trains and stations.
The railway budget is being perceived as populist as well as cautious. It is seen as a pro-common man budget, benefitting the largest percentage of users of India's extensive railway network.
The Railway Minister finished his speech at 1:45 pm IST, barely 10 minutes ago. The house has been adjourned for lunch and will reassemble at 2:45 pm. Debate on the budget will continue over the next three days.
Highlights are being updated in real time as the Railway Minister speaks in Parliament.