Bulletproof windows, GPRS system: Govt plans Rs 8-cr train for President
Though the Railways had sanctioned Rs 6 crore for manufacturing a new presidential saloon in its 2007-08 budget, President Pranab Mukherjee’s secretariat cited security concerns and inconvenience to the general public to reject the proposal the following year.india Updated: Jun 27, 2017 22:08 IST
The country may be yet to decide on its next President, but the railway ministry is already planning a Rs 8-crore railway saloon for the winning candidate to move around in. The state-owned transporter will present a proposal in this regard for the new President’s approval in July.
Using a German coach, the presidential saloon will have bulletproof windowpanes, a 20-line telephone exchange, plasma colour televisions, GPS and GPRS systems and satellite communications.
It will also have a modular kitchen and a public address system.
Past presidents – from Dr Rajendra Prasad to Dr Radhakrishnan and Dr Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy – travelled in twin carriages of ceremonial saloons built in 1956 on as many as 87 occasions since Independence.
Dr APJ Abdul Kalam was the last to journey in the saloon in 2006. It was in the same year that the regal carriages – complete with a conference hall, lounge, study rooms and a cabin for the President’s military secretary – were declared unsafe for train operations.
The Railways – in its 2007-08 budget – sanctioned Rs 6 crore for manufacturing a new presidential saloon. But, President Pranab Mukherjee’s secretariat cited security concerns – in addition to possible disruption of passenger traffic – to reject the plan in 2008.
“If the new President desires, the Railways can build the new saloon soon,” Arun Arora, chief mechanical engineer at Northern Railways, said.
The Railways has 62 air-conditioned and 222 non-AC saloon coaches that can run on broad gauge tracks, and two AC and 24 non-AC saloons meant for metre gauge tracks.
These are maintained for the railways minister, ministers of state, senior railways officials such as railway board members and railway zone general managers.
Railway officials say the maintenance costs of these saloons – called reserved accommodation carriages – are “marginal” because they are rarely used. “But they can be used as inspection carriages to reach accident sites and remote railway lines not connected by road or air. They are also utilised to train fresh employees,” an official said.
The railway minister and ministers of state used these saloons to travel 162 times in the five years leading up to September 2016, the Railways said in response to an RTI query filed by activist Subhash Agrawal last year. While minister of state Manoj Sinha travelled the most (40 journeys), former railway minister M Mallikarjuna Kharge spent the maximum number of days in a saloon (53) despite having undertaken fewer journeys (32), it added.
Railway minister Suresh Prabhu undertook 25 journeys in saloons until last September, with a total travel time of 32 days.
Agrawal believes the saloon facility is no longer relevant in modern India. “The Railways are unnecessarily shouldering a colonial burden. The saloon facility must be abolished,” he told HT.