Christmas is long over, but Railways Minister Lalu Prasad played Santa on Friday — promising goodies in the interim and last budget speech of his tenure to one and all. They include the introduction of four Garib Raths, across-the-board reduction in fares; the promise of “green toilets”, the announcement for 43 new trains!.
Giving in to public demand, he also agreed to scrap the scheme that provided for third foldable berths along side seats in the Sleeper and AC III classes. “I have already instructed manufacture of such coaches to stop it,” he said.
“The media has been reporting about bad catering quality and cleanliness in trains. I accept there are deficiencies and these we are urgently addressing,” Lalu said at a post-budget press conference. In his style, he added: “Fewer passengers from South-bound trains complain. The ones who complain more are from Kolkata, Bihar and UP!”
In his speech earlier on, he was keen to convey the view that the financial turnaround of the Railways needed 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,” Lalu said. He listed initiatives taken in this direction — the introduction of fully air-conditioned Garib Raths, free passenger upgrade facility, provision of cushioned seats in place of wooden seats in ordinary class.
Bihar was a major factor in his announcements. More than one-forth of the new train routes (14 out of 43) originate or touch the state. Besides, all three big ticket projects mentioned in Lalu’s budget speech are located in Bihar — the Rail Wheel Factory at Chapra, the diesel locomotive factory at Marhoura and the electric locomotive factory at Madhepura.
Keen to finish his tenure in a blaze of glory, the minister was apparently provoked by another concern while making his budget speech — making a political statement ahead of general elections. “Injustice has been done to Bihar since Independence”, he said, responding to allegations about his preference for Bihar. At the same time, he added, the concerns of all regions had been addressed.