JAMMU/NEW DELHI, Feb 12: The Railways have proposed five new trains for Jammu and Katra in 2014-15 budget but there was no mention of Jammu-Poonch and Baramulla-Kupwara rail lines in the budget, which made it further clear that Jammu-Poonch rail line project has been shelved.
The Railways proposed to run five new trains to Jammu and Katra during 2014-15.
The new proposed trains included Bandra (T)-Katra Express (weekly) via Kota, New Delhi and Ambala, Katra-Howrah Express (weekly) via Mughalsarai, Varanasi, Saharanpur, Yesvantpur-Katra Express (weekly) via Gulbarga, Kacheguda, Nagpur, New Delhi, Kota-Jammu Tawi Express (weekly) via New Delhi, Ambala and Sriganganagar-Jammu Tawi Express (weekly) via Abohar, Bathinda, Dhuri.
The Railways said it has completed 19 kilometers rail line between Qazigund-Banihal during 2013-14.
Meanwhile, the crucial rail links between Jammu and Poonch in Jammu region and between border districts of Baramulla and Kupwara did not find mention in Railway Minister Mallikarjun Kharge’s speech in Parliament today before he presented the vote-on-account for Railways for 2014-15, clearly indicating that Jammu-Poonch rail line proposal has been shelved.
The Jammu-Poonch link–a proposed railway line from Jammu Tawi station via the Historic City of Akhnoor to Poonch via Kaleeth-Doori Dager-Chowki Choura-Bhambla-Nowshera-Rajouri was designated a national project on the March 22, 2012. Both–Kupwara in Kashmir and Poonch in Jammu region–are the two border districts which witness border violations by Pakistani troops.
The then Railway Minister Mukul Roy had said he was pursuing the inclusion of four critical projects as national projects, which include Bilaspur, Mandi, Leh railway, Jammu, Poonch, Tanakpur-Bageshwar and Rupai-Parshuram Kund lines. The Government had in 2009, said in Lok Sabha that survey for Baramulla-Kupwara new line had already been conducted and work on this section hadn’t been started yet. The Railway Minister said in his speech that the Kashmir Rail project had witnessed a major landmark last June when 11.2 km long tunnel inking Banihal and Qazigund in Kashmir valley became operational.
He said the tunnel, “an engineering marvel”, had reduced the distance from 35 km to 17.5 km and provided an all-season means of transport to the people.
Also, construction of the Udhampur-Katra section had been completed and trial runs had started. A passenger train service to Katra is expected to start “very shortly”, the Minister added.
Specially-designed coaches for adverse weather conditions had been inducted for rail travel in Kashmir while corrosion resistant and lighter wagons with capability to carry extra pay-load and higher speed potential upto 100 km per hour had been developed.
Rail connectivity to Katra, the base camp of Vaishno Devi shrine, has been completed and passenger services will start shortly, Kharge said.
Listing out the achievements of Railways during UPA-II, he said the opening of the Udhampur-Katra section under the ambitious Kashmir Rail project will enable lakhs of pilgrims from across the country to visit Vaishno Devi shrine.
The interim Railway Budget for 2014-15 contained reforms proposals for opening the sector to domestic and foreign investors and a tariff authority to rationalise fares and freights, end cross subsidisation and enlarge the dynamic fare scheme.
The vote-on-account Budget, presented by Kharge, do not contain any revision of fares and freight rates in keeping with the tradition of not tinkering with them since it is for the first four months of next fiscal.
The Budget proposed introduction of 18 new premium trains, 38 express trains and 5 passenger trains.
Kharge, who took charge of the ministry after the exit of Pawan Kumar Bansal eight months ago, said apart from attracting private investment from domestic sectors, a proposal is under consideration to enable foreign direct investment (FDI) to foster creation of world-class rail infrastructure.
He said an independent Rail Tariff Authority is being set up to advise the Government on fixing of fares and freight rates.
“This would lead to an era of rationalisation of fares and freight structures for improving the fare-freight ratio and gradually bringing down cross-subsidisation between different segments,” said the Minister who had to cut short his speech and lay it on the table admist din over Telangana issue.
The Minister also announced starting of more high-speed trains and said the Ministry was exploring low-cost option of semi high-speed trains on select routes moving at 160-200 km per hour.
The annual Rail Plan has been pegged at Rs 64,305 crore with a budgetary support of Rs 30,223 crore.
Referring to the premium AC special train introduced on Delhi-Mumbai sector with shorter advance reservation period, Kharge said, “The fare charged includes a dynamically varying premium over Tatkal fare of Rajdhani services.”
“Such dynamic pricing was widely appreciated by the users … We are considering operation of this scheme on a larger scale,” he said.
Kharge said projects in pipeline involving private partners through public-private partnership (PPP) route related to rolling stock manufacturing units, modernisation of railway stations, multi-functional complexes, logistics parks, private freight terminals, freight train operations, liberalised wagon investment schemes and Dedicated Freight Corridors.
The Rail Land Development Authority, set up with a “challenging target” of Rs 1,000 crore, had already raised Rs 937 crore, he said.
Announcing that the governments of Karnataka, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh and Haryana had agreed to share cost of several rail projects, Kharge appealed to other state governments to follow suit to create rail infrastructure in their respective areas.
A joint feasibility study for Mumbai-Ahmedabad high-speed corridor, co-financed by the Railways and Japan International Cooperation Agency, which started in December last year, would be completed in 18 months, he said.
For the same corridor, a business development study undertaken by French Railways would be completed by April this year, the Minister said.
Besides, the department also intended to explore low cost options for raising speeds to 160-200 km per hour on existing select routes like Delhi-Agra and Delhi-Chandigarh.
The Minister also spelt out a series of steps including SMS alerts, ticketing on mobile phones in the unreserved segment and online booking of meals in trains. “IT has revolutionised our customer interface over the last few years. We intend to continue the process,” he said.
On the financial performance of Railways, he said the department had met from own resources total additional impact of Rs one lakh crore because of 6th Pay Commission.
“We are confident of surpassing the freight earnings target which has been increased to Rs 94,000 crore from Rs 93,554 crore in budget estimates. Considering the trend of passenger earnings, the revised target has been kept at Rs 37,500 crore,” Kharge said.
Considering the trend of earnings and expenditure, the revised plan outlay stands at Rs 59,359 crore. The operating ratio was likely to be 90.8 per cent as against the budgeted target of 87.8 per cent.
“In a marked improvement from the two earlier years, Railways will end the current year with surplus, and fund balance would increase from Rs 2,391 crore at the beginning of the current fiscal to Rs 8,018 crore at the end of March 2014,” he said.
It was his maiden budget today but Railway Minister Mallikarjun Kharge would not have liked the way things went in the Lok Sabha as his speech was cut short abruptly due to disturbances by members.
Kharge read out his speech on interim budget but had to stop after less than 20 minutes because of intense sloganeering over Telangana issue.
At times, he was not even audible as his voice was drowned in the high pitch ‘we want justice’ chants from Andhra Pradesh members.
As soon as the House resumed at noon, nearly 30 members trooped into the Well and the numbers swelled as the interim budget presentation progressed.
Drama began to unfold as one of the TDP member snatched pen and papers from a Lok Sabha staff member. A few minutes later, some members from Andhra Pradesh got into a scuffle with other MPs even as the Railway Minister was delivering the speech.
Senior leaders including Sharad Yadav JD(U), Jagdambika Pal (Congress) and Saugata Roy (TMC) intervened and managed to avert a clash in the Well.
Some members tore papers in the Well while Telugu Desam Party’s (TDP) Naramalli Sivaprasad stood on the chair meant for the Lok Sabha staff just in front of the Speaker.
Ruling members were also seen forming a ring to prevent others from reaching near the Railway Minister as he read out the speech.
In an unprecedented scene, four Union Ministers from Seemandhra were in the Well demanding a united Andhra Pradesh while UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi was looking on.
Ministers K S Rao, D Purandeshwari, Chiranjeevi and K Surya Prakash Reddy were in the Well carrying posters saying ‘Save A.P. Save India’. M Pallam Raju and Kruparani Killi were seen supporting them by standing in their seats.
As soon as the Railway Minister said he was tabling the speech and proceeded to read out the last paragraph, many members hurried towards the treasury benches. TMC leader Kalyan Banerjee and CPI(M) member M B Rajesh tried to approach the Minister.
All through UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, flanked by Union Ministers Kamal Nath and Sharad Pawar, was sitting in the front row. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was also present in the House while Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi was seen chatting with some members during the speech.
Interestingly, Finance Minister P Chidambaram was not present in the House.
Amid the din, occasionally Congress members thumped the desks appreciating Kharge’s speech. As the ruckus continued, Kharge ended his speech abruptly by just reading the last paragraph that quoted Jawaharlal Nehru.
The second row, where Kharge was seated along with his deputy Adhir Ranjan Chowhdury, was unusually crowded with about nine people squeezing in.
Union Ministers Sushilkumar Shinde, Kapil Sibal, Veerappa Moily, Rajeev Shukla and Shashi Tharoor, among others, were present.
As the Lok Sabha was adjourned for the day after the chaotic proceedings, torn pieces of papers were seen on the floor.