Continuing the trend witnessed during the past two years of the UPA government, Lalu Yadav is all set to present his third "people friendly" Railway Budget in which no hike is expected in ordinary class passenger fares or freight rates.
Known for his penchant for populist measures, the railway minister is also going to announce in his budget speech before the Lok Sabha on Monday, a number of new passenger amenities in keeping with his resolve to make train journey more comfortable and give the organisation a more "customer friendly" image.
Lalu, who is also making an all-out effort to boost his personal image as a successful central minister to wipe out the stigma of failure in Bihar, is said to be extremely keen to present what would be perceived as an "anti-inflationary" Railway Budget at a time when all-round price rise has led to widespread criticism of the Union Government.
In fact, there is a possibility that the "turnaround expert" - who takes pride in claiming that he transformed the loss aking Railways into a profitable enterprise without a single fare hike - may actually effect a marginal reduction in ordinary class fares and certain categories of freight rates.
In last year’s budget, he had sprung a surprise by cutting down fares for AC first class travel by 18 per cent and AC second class by 10 per cent while maintaining the sleeper class fare unchanged.
This time, according to Railway Ministry officials, he plans to bring affordable air-conditioned class train travel within the reach of a wider section of middle and lower class passengers by introducing several more Garib Rath trains linking different state capitals.
In the 2006-07 Railway Budget, Lalu had announced four Garib Raths, the last of which was flagged off by him on the Delhi-Mumbai route on Thursday. The AC three-tier journey on this would cost about 40 per cent less than the fares on other air-conditioned trains.
Also in the offing are rationalisation of freight rates and a slew of measures to encourage industry and trade clients to send more cargo by train so that the Railways may get a larger share of freight business which is currently the monopoly of road transporters. Tariff concessions are likely to be announced for transportation of certain items like foodgrains, iron ore and coal.
A major expenditure in the budgetary outlay is expected on laying of new train lines, particularly in the northeast and Jammu and Kashmir, gauge conversion and building of four new bridges. Another significant portion of funds is likely to be spent on setting up new rail coach and locomotive manufacturing factories, officials said.