Union Rail Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal will present his maiden rail Budget on Tuesday. All eyes will be on him on whether he yields to pressure of hiking passenger fares yet again or looks at other measures to mobilise resources to offset the burden of the recent diesel price hike.
With a hard look at finances, Bansal is expected to go in for a fare hike through the back-door, taking refuge behind 'surcharges on tickets'.
Bansal had on January 22 hiked passenger fares across-the- board after the Railways faced a loss of about Rs 25,000 crore in the passenger segment.
Railways had aimed to mop up an additional revenue of Rs 6,600 crore but the fuel hike had wiped out Rs 3,300 crore, Bansal had said.
Full coverage of Rail Budget 2013
The Rail Minister held several round of discussions with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Finance Minister P Chidambaram and the Planning Commission in connection with the Rail Budget. He is also understood have discussed the possibility of fare hike with Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
However, sources said a section of the Congress is not inclined towards effecting another round of fare hike as general elections are not far away.
Bansal is all set to announce a slew of passenger-friendly measures such as improvement in catering service, maintaining cleanliness at rail premises, introducing Braille stickers in coaches for visually-challenged passengers and development of stations in his maiden Rail Budget.
While there are possibilities of minor tinkering in freight rates despite resistance from the industry due to the slow economy growth, there will be some announcements of freight schemes to attract more loadings in the next fiscal 2013-14.
With Bansal heading Rail Bhavan and the key ministry back with the Congress party after almost one-and-a-half decade, speculation is rife about announcement of 100 new trains including AC double deckers, extension and increase of some popular passenger services.
Though the Congress is opposing the Trinamool government in Bengal, MoS Railways Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury might have his say with likely provisions for new trains including Berhampur- Sealdah passenger, a direct train for New Jalpaiguri from the capital and pantry cars for Bengal-bound trains. G
In the last Rail Budget , Railways had predicted its operating ratio to be 84.9 per cent, whereas at present its operating ratio is hovering around at an unhealthy 88 per cent to 90 per cent.
As far as rolling stock programme is concerned, the announcement will be made for manufacturing of 4,200 new coaches including 600 LHB (Linke Holfmann Busch) coaches in the Rail Budget 2013-14.
While provision for manufacturing of 670 new locomotives including 20 LNG locos will be made, the Budget will also account for manufacturing of about 16,000 new wagons.
Railways proposes to run as many as 70 heavy haul freight trains over the next year in a move which will not only help decongestion of the busy trunk routes, but also enable it to manage its freight traffic till the dedicated freight corridor takes shape.
Despite cash crunch, funds are likely to be announced in the Rail Budget 2013-14 for long pending projects that include laying new lines, electrification, gauge conversion and doubling.
Currently, there are about 347 rail projects worth Rs 1.47 lakh crore pending. Railways is planning to complete some of these works in the next fiscal.
Certain pending projects involving laying of new lines as last-mile connectivity are being identified and funds will be allocated in the budget for completion of those tracks.
Planning Commission has earmarked Rs 1,94,221 crore as General Budgetary Support (GBS) for Railways in the 12th Five-Year Plan. It has asked the national transporter to earn Rs 1,05,000 crore from internal generation and Rs 2,20,000 crore through extra budgetary resources during (2012-17).
Railways expect to generate Rs 7,000 crore revenue from internal generation and Rs 18,000 crore from market borrowing in next fiscal.
Government may soon notify some works connected with the Railways like afforestation and construction of approach road for crossings under its ambitious rural job scheme which is likely to find a mention in the budget.
Industry has called for speedy implementation of key railway projects such as the Dedicated Freight Corridor, high- speed rail corridors, rolling stock and other capacity enhancement works in the Rail Budget 2013-14.
Currently, industry awaits changes in policies relating to wagon leasing, private freight terminals, special freight train operations which would promote private sector participation in the rail sector.
In response to the industry demand Railways will announce some initiatives to encourage public-private partnerships in rail sector.
With PTI inputs