Christmas is long over, but Union Railway Minister Lalu Prasad played Santa on Friday, promising goodies in the interim and last rail budget speech of his tenure.
He promised 43 new trains, four more Garib Rath trains (chariots of the poor); across the board reduction in fares of all classes; and provision for “green toilets” in trains.
Prasad also agreed to scrap the scheme that provided for third foldable berths along the side seats in Sleeper and AC III classes. “I have already given instructions and the manufacture of such coaches is being stopped.” Complaints about the discomforts of travelling in such coaches had been piling up with the Railways Ministry.
“The media have been reporting about bad catering quality and cleanliness in trains. I accept there are deficiencies, we are addressing them,” he said at a post-budget press conference. “Fewer passengers from south-bound trains register complaints. People who complain more belong to Kolkata, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.”
In his Budget speech, Prasad was keen to convey the view that the financial turnaround of the Railways required to be blended with efforts to improve public amenities.
“Customers hearts have to be won and the only way to do this is to render better services,” he said, while listing initiatives taken in the direction — introduction of AC Garib Raths, free passenger upgrade facility from lower classes to vacant air-conditioned upper classes and provision of cushioned seats in ordinary class.
Also apparent was the Bihar-skew to the announcements. More than one-fourth of the new train routes — 14 of the 43 — originate or touch Bihar. Besides, all three big-ticket projects mentioned in the speech are in Bihar — Rail Wheel Factory at Chapra, the diesel locomotive factory at Marhoura and the electric locomotive factory at Madhepura.