‘No passenger fare hike; freight rates, ticket charges to go up’

NEW DELHI, Feb 26:

Union Minister for Railways, Pawan Kumar Bansal arrives at Parliament House to present the Rail Budget 2013-14, in New Delhi on Tuesday.

Sparing rail passengers from fare hike, the Railway Budget today slapped an across-the board 5.8 per cent increase in freight rates and raised reservation and related charges to net in additional Rs 4,683 crore a year.
Continuing efforts to clean up railway finances, Railway Minister P K Bansal, the first Congress Minister to present a Railway Budget in 17 years, adopted the dynamic fuel adjustment component (FAC)-linked revision in tariffs, proposed by his Trinamool predecessor Dinesh Trivedi last year.
The 5.8 per cent increase will cover among other things foodgrains and pulses, coal, iron and steel, urea, iron ore, diesel, kerosene and LPG, which the industry and political parties feared could lead to further inflation spiral.
Beginning April 1, the FAC will be adjusted in freight rates twice a year in line with changes in diesel price. Any reduction in fuel prices could result in lowering of the freight rates.
“In the light of deregulation of high speed diesel (HSD), Railways’ finances need to be rationally insulated and to this end a mechanism to neutralise the impact of fuel prices on operating expenses is required to be put in place,” Bansal said presenting the Budget in Lok Sabha.
While not hiking the basic passenger fares, which were raised only last month to rake in Rs 6,600 crore, the Budget made an upward revision of reservation fee and supplementary charge for superfast trains that will mean an increase ranging from Rs 5 on the second class to Rs 25 on AC 1st and Executive Class.
Tatkal charges will go up by Rs 15 on sleeper class to Rs 100 on Executive Class. Clerkage and cancellation charges will go up by Rs 5 on second class to Rs 50 on Executive Class.
The Budget proposes to withdraw the enhanced reservation fee and proposes no increase in parcel and luggage rates. The changes will come into effect from April 1.
Bansal said last month’s decision to deregulate diesel prices has eaten away half of the Rs 6,600 crore gains to be netted by last month’s passenger fare hike.
“As regards passenger fares, since these were revised only in January this year, I do not intend to pass on the additional burden to them now and the railways will absorb the impact of Rs 850 crore on this account,” Bansal said in his Budget speech.
He told a post-Budget press conference that he was no apologetic about the hike in freight rates and passenger charges.
While Bansal said the average freight rate revision will be 5 per cent, Railway Board Chairman Vinay Mittal said it will be between 4.5 and 4.6 per cent. But the Budget documents show the increase to be an average of 5.8 per cent.
Mittal said the freight increase would neutralise the additional expenditure on account of fuel cost and is not going to result in additional earnings to the kitty.
Opposition parties attacked the Budget proposals as inflationary and a burden on the common man while Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and his Cabinet colleagues hailed it as reformist and forward looking.
India Inc was divided on the Budget with a section apprehending that the hike in freight charges will fuel inflation, while others said some proposals could set the growth multiplier in motion.
Bansal told a post-Budget press conference that he was no apologetic about the hike in freight rates and passenger charges.
The Budget gives a major thrust on passenger safety, amenities and cleanliness while proposing introduction of 67 new express and 26 passenger trains in the coming year.
It also has proposals for construction of seven new lines and doubling of 10 lines. Introduction of first AC Electrical Multiple Unit (EMU) on Mumbai suburban network, introduction of 72 additional services in Mumbai and 18 in Kolkata are among the metropolitan projects and suburban services proposed in the Budget.
Bansal said a Railway Tariff Regulatory Authority has been formulated and was at an inter-ministerial consultation stage.
It also contains a slew of concessions like complimentary passes to recipients of Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna and Dhyan Chand awards in First Class and 2nd AC and Olympic medallists and Dronacharya awardees in Rajdhani and Shatabdi trains.
With regard to passenger amenities, the Budget proposes provision of free Wi-Fi facilities on several trains, progressive extension of bio-toilets on trains and induction of Next-Gen e-ticketing system capable of issuing 7,200 tickets per minute against 2,000 now.
As many as 1.2 lakh users can access tickets simultaneously under the proposed upgraded system against 40,000 now.
Touching on financial performance for 2012-13, Bansal said loading target has been revised to 1,007 Million Tonnes against 1,025 MT in budget estimates due to economic slowdown.
Gross Traffic Receipts have been fixed at Rs 1,25,680 crore in revised estimates, short by Rs 6,872 crores over Budget estimates.
Ordinary Working Expenses have been retained at Budget Estimate level of Rs 84,400 crores, while pension payments have increased by Rs 1,500 crore to Rs 20,000 crores.
Dividend liability to the Government has been fully discharged. The Budget shows an ‘excess’ of Rs 10,409 crores as against the Budget amount of Rs 15,557 crores.
Loan of Rs 3,000 crore taken in the current year has been fully repaid along with interest. Operating Ratio has been recorded at 88.8 per cent, as compared to 94.9 per cent in 2011-12.
The Budget Estimates for 2013-14 has fixed a freight loading target of 1,047 MT, 40 MT more than the previous year.
Passenger growth has been estimated at 5.2 per cent and gross traffic receipts at Rs 1,43,742 crore, an increase of Rs 18,062 crore over the revised estimates of the current year.
Ordinary working expenses have been placed at Rs 96,500 crore. Appropriation to Depreciation Reserve Fund has been pegged at Rs 7,500 crore and Pension Fund at Rs 22,000 crore. Dividend Payment has been estimated at Rs 6, 249 crore.
Operating ratio is expected to improve by one per cent to 87.8 per cent and fund balance to exceed Rs 12,000 crore.
Annual Plan for Railways for the coming year has been fixed at Rs 63,363 crore, the largest ever, with Gross Budgetary Support of Rs 26,000 crore. Allocation for Railway Safety Fund has been fixed at Rs 2,000 crore while internal resources have been estimated at Rs 14,260 crore.
As part of extra budgetary resources, market borrowing has been pegged at Rs 15,103 crore while public-private partnership will yield Rs 6,000 crore.
Inducting fiscal discipline, the Railway Minister said no supplementary demands for grants will be introduced in the monsoon or winter sessions of Parliament and 347 projects have been prioritised with assured funding.
A new Debt Service Fund will be set up to meet committed liabilities and a target of creating a fund balance of Rs 30,000 crore in the terminal year of the 12th Plan has been fixed.
The Budget proposes a corporate safety plan for a 10 year period (2014-24) and elimination of 10,797 level crossings during the 12th Plan.
There will be no addition of level crossings in the Indian Railways henceforth. As part of safety features, a train protection warning system on automatic signalling systems will be introduced and rigorous trials of the indigenously developed train collision avoidance system will be conducted.
Among the rail-based industries to be set up are, a Forged Wheel Factory at Rae Bareli, the constituency of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, a greenfield MEMU manufacturing facility at Bhilwara in Rajasthan and a coach manufacturing factory at Sonepat. (PTI)


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