This one is for all

Updated: Feb 27 2008, 04:24am hrs
In his Budget, with a number of populist schemes, including huge direct employment plans and slashing fares across the table, railway minister Lalu Prasad has set the election agenda for the UPA government. Lalus moves come with a huge financial implication on the railways, which has achieved the best-ever operating ratio in the last 40 years. And there are fears of the railways growth story hitting speed breakers.After presenting the Rail Budget, the railway minister talks to FEs Surabhi.

Did you prepare the Rail Budget 2008-09 keeping in mind the general elections next year

While I have tried to keep the needs of people all over the country, the Budget was not my main priority. I have provided benefits like reduction in passenger fares to everyone through the Budget- all sections of the society and all regions in the country.

This Budget seems to be a pro-rich and middle class one and other sections of the society are ignored

There is no truth in the allegation that the Railway Budget is only going to benefit rich and middle class as we have reduced fare by 5% for second class including sleeper. The move benefit everybody more so poor people as even common man traveling in Jan Shadharan train from Patna to Delhi would now be paying 5% less and it is only the poor people who travel by shadharan express. Of course, at the same time we have tried to benefit all segment of population by reducing fare of even ACI, AC-II and AC-III

In this Budget you have announced freight reductions for specific commodities. But like previous years, will you hike the freight charges in the middle of the year in 2008-09 also

Let me tell you, we have never resorted to mid-year freight hikes. We have only done this for iron ore mined for export. This was done as the sector was making a lot of profits. We will stick to our announcement of rationalising freight rates in the new fiscal.

When will work on the dedicated freight corridor begin

We will surely begin construction of the dedicated freight corridor in 2008, as announced in the Budget. And let me tell you, with the freight corridor, the future of the railways will becomebrighter. It will be able to carry more goods traffic. Along the corridor, we will also make multi modal logistics parks and I hope these will attract a lot of investments.

What will be impact of inducting coolies as Grade 4 employees

That will not have a major impact. We have vacancies. It will not upset my bank balance.