Lalu Prasad Yadav walked the talk on his turnaround mantra for the railways for the third year running, presenting a budget full of goodies: lower fares, promises of better passenger amenities and freight concessions aimed at curbing inflation and boosting business.
Shouting over the relentless din created by the opposition over the government's alleged suppression of information on the detention of Bofors case accused Ottavio Quattrocchi in Argentina, Lalu announced staggered tariff cuts across all classes, more low-fare, airconditioned 'Garib Raths', more unreserved coaches, and new, higher-capacity coaches to carry more passengers.
During his 90-minute speech, and later at a press conference, Lalu repeatedly referred to the budget as "pro-poor". Second class fares have been cut by Rs 1 in all non-suburban and non super-fast mail and express trains. The number of unreserved compartments has been increased from four to six in all new trains. And the old wooden seats will be done away with completely.
First and Second AC fares have been cut for the second year running. Fares for the most-popular Sleeper and AC Sleeper classes have been cut too, but the reductions will come into effect only after the higher-capacity coaches have been commissioned. These will be ready only by the end of the year, railway officials said.
Among other measures announced were reservation of lower berths for senior citizens and women above 45 travelling alone, and special coaches for the physically challenged. Measures will be taken to improve railway security.
Increase in traffic volume to reduce per-unit operating costs lie at the core of Lalu's economics. Therefore, 800 extra coaches will be attached to popular trains. The Rs 31,000 crore annual plan, the largest ever, aims at maintaining high growth by focusing on early completion of projects and enhancing capacity.
Lalu said he was proud that the railways had achieved a cash surplus of Rs 20,000 crore from Rs 14,700 crore last year without burdening the common man.
• No increase in passenger fares for any class of travel
• Immediate reduction in fares of second class in ordinary passenger and non-superfast mail/express trains by Rs 1 per passenger; of AC first class by 3 per cent (in busy season) and 6 per cent (in lean season); of AC-2 tier class by 2 per cent (in busy season) and 4 per cent (in lean season)
• So, a Second AC ticket on the Delhi-Mumbai Rajdhani will cost Rs 1,999 (in busy season) and Rs 1,958 (in lean season) — instead of the current Rs 2,040
• Eight new Garib Raths and 32 pairs of new trains in the offing