New Delhi, March 13: Railway minister Pawan Kumar Bansal today hinted at further hikes in reservations and cancellation fees to ensure a balanced development of the country’s largest transporter.
Bansal also invited investments from corporate houses to improve amenities at stations.
Replying to a debate on the Rail Budget 2013-14 in the Lok Sabha amid a walkout by the Opposition parties, Bansal said his ministry would focus on spending “limited resources” on safety and better services during the year and modernising stations through corporate help.
The railways would require Rs 10 trillion for the maintenance of rolling stock and upgradation of infrastructure and safety requirements.
The budget and the demand for grants were passed by a voice vote, after the Opposition, including the BJP, Left, JD-U, Shiv Sena, AIADMK, Trinamul Congress and BJD, walked out accusing the minister of focussing only on Congress-ruled states and ignoring the others.
Referring to the problem of touts, Bansal said ticket bookings were open for 120 days and these touts bought the tickets in bulk and sold them for 119 days and returned the unsold ones on the last day paying “minimal” cancellation charges.
“Therefore, is it not necessary that gradually the cancellation charges are increased so that these people (touts) are kept out and only bonafide passengers get tickets which are not costly.
“Later a situation could be created when these cancellation charges could be gradually brought down. But such a situation has to be created first,” Bansal said.
The rail budget made an upward revision in supplementary charges such as reservation fees, cancellation charges and tatkal reservation fees for superfast trains, which means an increase ranging from Rs 5 on second class to Rs 25 on AC First and executive classes. Freight charges were also raised 5.8 per cent.
The changes in supplementary charges would help the railways to earn an additional revenue of Rs 483 crore.
Referring to the hike in fares and freight charges, Bansal said these steps were taken to maintain the rolling stock and generate revenues in line with recommendations of the Kakodkar and Pitroda committees and the Planning Commission.
To modernise stations, Bansal said over 600 model stations had already been created, and the ministry had decided to take the help of corporate houses to provide better services, improve cleanliness and catering.
“Those corporate houses which spend over Rs 2 crore to provide facilities in a railway station will have a plaque in their name,” he said.
Countering Opposition charges about discrimination against non-Congress-ruled states, he said, “We cannot indulge in financial profligacy. We can’t indulge in the luxury which was resorted to earlier. There is no discrimination. We want a balanced development of the railways for the entire country.”
“There was no hike in fares and charges in the last 12 years. There was criticism inside the House, but not outside,” Bansal claimed, adding that the bulk of rail travellers, who did not travel by air-conditioned coaches, were the “least affected” by the increase.
About 2.3 crore people travelled by trains daily and the reservation category was just 5 per cent of total tickets, he said.
Replying to the criticism of the Trinamul Congress that nothing was done for Bengal, Bansal said the allocations made last year could not be spent as the works meant for the state were not carried out.
On the dedicated freight corridor project, he said “tangible” progress had been made and 86 per cent of land on the eastern corridor acquired.
Referring to the toy train service in the Darjeeling hills, Bansal said the service had been stopped because of landslides and efforts were on to revive the line.
19 new trains
Bansal today announced 19 new train services, extension of three and increase in frequency of five trains.
“I have received demands from MPs regarding introduction of train services, extension and increase in frequency of existing services, demands for stoppages and also withholding of extensions announced in the rail budget,” he said.
Bansal had already announced 106 new trains in his maiden rail budget.