Accusing the government of making “bogus claims” in the Railway Budget, the Opposition today said though there was no proposal to hike fares and freight rates, there was every possibility for it to do so like in the previous year.
Initiating a discussion on Railway Budget in the Lok Sabha, K C Venugopal (Cong) alleged that “compulsion” of assembly polls in five states in the coming days has prevented the government from hiking fares and charges now, though the bureaucracy supports such a move.
Accusing the government of making “bogus claims” as there was no proposal to hike passenger fares and freight charges in the budget, he said like last year, charges on various counts like cancellation and Tatkal charges were hiked during the year.
Such charges were increased six times and the last hike was as recently as in December last, he said.
Accusing the Railway Ministry of lacking transparency, Venugopal wondered how the government will fund the proposed spendings on infrastructure. While Rs 1 lakh crore has been set aside for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train, little has been earmarked for major projects like signalling and quality travel for passengers, he said.
On a lighter vein, Congress leader and former Railway Minister Mallikarjun Kharge said bullet train was necessary as Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu will have to travel frequently to Ahmedabad from Mumbai to consult Prime Minister Narendra Modi. While Prabhu is from Maharashtra, Modi is from Gujarat.
Prabhu intervened to say that the bullet train project was initiated by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Narendra Modi government was only taking it forward.
Venugopal quoted former Delhi Metro chief E Sreedharan as saying that nothing has been done on signalling his recommendation to Railway Ministry to devolve financial powers to the lower rung. It has not been incorporated in the budget.
Earlier just ahead of the discussion, Congress and AAP members pointed out that Prabhu was not in the House which was against the convention.
TMC’s Ratna De Nag, who was presiding over the proceedings, said Prabhu was in Rajya Sabha and would be in the Lower House shortly. His deputy Manoj Sinha was present. Harsh Vardhan was the only Cabinet minister present then.
When Kantilal Bhuria (Cong) insisted that Prabhu be called, the Chair said since Congress does not want to initiate the debate in the absence of the minister, she would call another member.
At this, Venugopal agreed to commence the debate with a protest not that Prabhu was not present. The Railway Minister came in a little later. AIADMK member R Parthipan regretted that no new rail lines or projects were announced in the Rail budget.
He, however, said all efforts should be made for expeditious completion of the projects which were announced by the earlier governments.
Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar (Trinamool Congress) said West Bengal and seven north-eastern states have been left high and dry in the rail budget.
“Why has the region been neglected?…Why has the name of Duranto (train) been changed?” she said, and demanded that “Izzat tickets” should be brought back.
Duronto trains and ‘Izzat tickets’ were launched when Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee was the Union Railway Minister.
Dastidar also objected to over-emphasis on Public Private Partnership (PPP) projects for carrying out various functions of the railways saying it was a move towards privatisation of organisation.
K H Muniyappa (Cong), who was in the chair, suggested that Railways Minister should call a meeting of the general managers and state MPs to discuss the issues concerning their region.
BJD member Balabhadra Majhi appreciated railways minister for allocating various projects to Odisha, a state which is endowed with mineral wealth and poor people.
Gajanan Chandrakant Kirtikar (Shiv Sena) demanded that stalls on railway station should be given to ‘bhumiputra’ (local people).
The Shiv Sena MP also demanded an inquiry into the working of the Railway Recruitment Board-Mumbai alleging that only 30 per cent of Marathis were recruited by it. He wanted to know why outsiders were being recruited by RRB-Mumbai.
M S Rao (TDP) demanded that the railways minister should increase allocation for the Vizag metro project.
He also suggested that a railways university should be set up in Andhra Pradesh.
Ashok Chavan (INC) said common man expects announcements of improving rail connectivity in Budget, but the Railway Minister focussed more on cleanliness.
“This Budget instead of becoming a game changer has become a name changer,” he said, adding new trains like Antodyaya and Tejas are similar to the existing Jansadharan and Duranto trains.
Measures for welfare of coolies were expected in the Budget, he said, adding that a white paper on Railways finances should be prepared.
“It remains to be seen how far common man will benefit from the name change,” Chavan said.
Terming the budget as innovative and progressive, Rajamohan Reddy (YSRCP) demanded that money should be given for implementing pending projects. Jagdambika Pal (BJP) regretted that the rail network has not expanded commensurately with the increase in number of passengers by 17 times and freight movement by 9 times since independence.
“This is the first time that Rail Budget in not limited to any one state but it is for entire country,” he said.
In the past, the Rail Budgets have been lop-sided. It used to be called West Bengal specific, or Bihar specific, he added.
Rajeev P Satav of Congress said the government has increased Railway fare by 14.5 per cent outside Budget in the last 20 months even as the latest Budget has left it unchanged.
Besides, he said, freight tariff has gone up by 12 per cent, Tatkal fare raised by 33 per cent and cancellation charges has raised a whopping 100 per cent in the last 20 months.
He demanded that the first Rail University at Vadodara should be named after the BJP leader late Gopinath Munde.
AIADMK member J Jayavardhan said, this Budget does not reflect aspirations of each and everybody and on the whole Rail Budget has failed to meet expectation.
Tamil Nadu has not got adequate share, he said, adding there has been just one per cent increase for Tamil Nadu over the previous Budget. Jugal Kishore Sharma (BJP) said the earlier Railway Budgets had focused only on few states but this was the people’s budget which focused on women also.
“No state as been untouched from this Budget,” he said.
K B Tumane (Shiv Sena) demanded that some rail projects which have not yet been completed in the Nagpur region should be completed on time.
K M Patil (BJP) said this Rail Budget was for “aam aadmi” as it has not hiked fares.
“High spped trains and security of women was main focus in this budget. Earlier the Indian Railways was in ICU and this government is putting the sector on the track,” he said.
Riti Pathak (BJP) too appreciated the budget and said that the announcements were focused on all sections of people including women.