per cent cut in the Jan Shatabdi fares that are 10 per cent higher than superfast mail and express trains. Also, meals have been made optional on these one-year-old services to make them more acceptable and competitive.
Kumar announced 2003-04 as the passenger convenience year, proposing concessions for senior citizens, accredited journalists and cancer and heart patients in various trains.
In view of the competition to its high-end passenger traffic from the airlines, the minister also proposed to reduce fares in select trains during non-peak periods.
As an experimental measure, there will be a 10 per cent reduction in basic fares — over the revised rates — of AC-I and II on all Rajdhani Express trains during non-peak period (July 15 to September 15) this year.
For instance, on the Rajdhani Express between Hazrat Nizamuddin and Thiruvananthapuram, the cost of travel is expected to come down by 22 per cent in AC-II and 19 per cent in AC-I.
In Shatabdi trains, the basic fare between New Delhi and Bhopal in the executive class will come down by 13 per cent.
Low occupancy on Rajdhani and Shatabdi trains is one of the reasons for the railways re-jigging the fare structure.
There has been a 3 per cent drop in passenger growth during the current year. To recoup this loss, the minister has announced a series of passenger-friendly measures, ranging from safety, punctuality and cleanliness to easy ticketing and refunds. It is hoped that these steps will fetch the railways an additional 7 per cent revenue while winning back passenger traffic lost to road carriers.
Other populist proposals in the budget include the launch of 50 new express trains, an increase in the frequency of 13 popular trains and extension of 24 other services.
The railways’ confidence in facing the next financial year without placing any burden on consumers stems from the impressive freight revenue collections this year.
Freight loading is expected to be five million tonnes over the target of 510 million tonnes, raking in an extra Rs. 540 crore. The target for the coming year has been ambitiously placed at 540 million tonnes.
The finance minister has also granted Rs. 500 for the strategic Kashmir rail link.
Classifications of certain commodities have been lowered to reduce freight rates. Petrol freight falls by 10.7 per cent, while that of diesel, LPG, steel pig iron and vegetable oil has been lowered in the range of 5.3-9.5 per cent.
The railway budget for 2003-04 has been fixed at Rs. 10,607 crore, which is Rs. 603 crore more than the revised estimates for the current financial year.
The Opposition blasted the budget. Former railway minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee described Nitish Kumar’s budget as “election-oriented”. She said that if elections were held as scheduled, a supplementary rail budget would be placed.
Congress leader Shivraj Patil said: “It is a soft election budget with nothing inspiring. It will not help in expanding the railways and making it more efficient.”
** Customer is no longer a pushover.
This is what Nitish Kumar has to offer:
Safety first concept
* 20,000 safety-related jobs to be filled, more safety-related training for staff
* Anti-collision devices to be installed on trains
* Continual electronic checking of tracks, bridges to be upgraded
* 30% rebate for those over 60. So far, rebate only for men 65 and over and women 60-plus
* Concessions for those travelling for treatment of cancer, thalassaemia major, heart or kidney problems on more trains and classes
Painless ticket refund
* Easy refund for unused tickets three hours after train reaches destination
n If a confirmed RAC ticket is lost, get a duplicate by paying 10%-25% extra (refundable later)
* Task force for cleaner trains
* Unified command for cleaning staff
* More equipment, where required, with private help