Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Mamata plans public-pvt partnership, invites biz firms

Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday presented India's rail budget for the next fiscal with the promise of a new business model to encourage private investment along with social commitment but without privatisation.

"Our objective is inclusive growth," she told the Lok Sabha, Lower House of Parliament, adding that her main consideration in this year's budget was social responsibility rather than mere commercial viability of projects. (Budget highlights)

"We have set our goals in the Vision 2020 document and we will achieve it," the minister said, referring to the document unveiled in December that has targeted making over 30,000 km of routes into double or multiple lines against 18,000 km today.

"It is a fact that administrative and procedural delays discourage potential investors. We will need to overcome this. I am setting up a special task force for this," she said.

"Special structure will be created for the new business model,” she said.

"But we will not privatise our railways. Indian Railways will remain with the government."

At the same time, she also asked the private sector to refrain from what she called “typical negative approach” while dealing with the Indian Railways.

"I am sorry to say this, this mindset has to change."

The Railway Budget for 2010-11 proposed no increase in passenger fares and freight rates while reducing the tariff by Rs 100 per wagon in transportation of foodgrains, kerosene and fertilisers to tackle the price rise. (No fare hike: Read story)

The budget also proposed to reduce the maximum limit of service charge on e-booking of tickets to Rs 10 for sleeper
class and Rs 20 for AC class. The present maximum charge is Rs 15 and Rs 40 respectively.

Railways will run a special exhibition train across the country to mark the Commonwealth Games to be held here apart from being the lead partner of the mega sporting event.

She also said five sports academies would be set up across the country to strengthen the infrastructure. The proposed locations are Delhi, Secunderabad, Chennai and Mumbai.

To promote hockey, Bannerjee said it is also proposed to provide astro-turfs.

The Railways will also provide increased employment opportunities for sports persons.

"Indian Railways will be the lead partner of the Commonwealth Games being hosted by India this year. To mark this event and also to spread the message, Railways proposes to start a Commonwealth Exhibition train," Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee said.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee were among those in the house, presided over by Speaker Meira Kumar.

This was Banerjee's fourth budget of her career as railway minister and the second for the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in its second straight term after being voted back to office in May last year.

Mamata Banerjee said the government aims to increase non core earnings to 10 billion rupees from 1.5 billion rupees.

According to Banerjee, 117 out of the 122 new trains promised in her last budget will be flagged off by March 31, within a matter of seven months, which was a commendable effort.

Seeking to give safety issues due consideration, the minister said there were a few cases of unfortunate accidents in the past and said these would be prevented by adopting the highest level of technology and manpower training.

“Within five years, we will have 13,000 out of unmanned level crossings manned - 3,000 this fiscal and 1,000 in the coming fiscal,” she said, referring to the high number of accidents at such crossroads.

The budget came against the backdrop of the share of Indian Railways in the movement of goods, vis a vis truckers, falling from 24.07 percent in 2001-02 to 20.89 percent in 2008-09 and further to 19.32 percent in the first 10 months of this fiscal.

Indian Railways runs the world's second largest network under a single management with a network of 64,099 route km to ferry 18.9 million passengers on 7,000 trains daily from 6,906 stations. It also runs 4,000 freight trains to carry 850 million tonnes of cargo.

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