The Budget may have something for every section, and that includes additional trains and innovative schemes to corner more freight traffic from the road.
For the seventh year in a row, passenger fares are unlikely to be revised in the Railway Budget to be presented on Wednesday as Mamata Banerjee is once again set to reach out to the common man with populist measures, reports PTI.
The Budget may have something for every section and that includes additional trains and innovative schemes to corner more freight traffic from the road, Rail Bhavan sources said.
Railway minister Mamata Banerjee, who will be presenting her second budget in UPA-II, will also lay the foundation for the implementation of the ambitious Railways Vision document for the coming decade.
The document may seek to attain inclusive development, generate large-scale employment and ensure environmental sustainability. The Vision Document 2020 was unveiled by Ms Banerjee in the Winter Session of Parliament last year, along with the White Paper.
"Most of the proposals mentioned in the vision document, like expansion of rail network, raising train speed and safety measures and commercial utilisation of railway land, are expected to find mention in the rail Budget," the sources said.
With elections round the corner in Bihar and West Bengal, Ms Banerjee is unlikely to touch passenger fares though she is under pressure to review them, which have not seen upward revision for the last seven years. Ms Banerjee might rationalise freight rates and announce innovative schemes to compete with road transport, while leaving the loading rates of essential commodities like food grains untouched.
At present, more than 70% of the freight traffic movement takes place through highways. Railway Budget will also contain proposals for introduction of more trains including about a dozen Duronto non-stop trains, a couple of Janshatabdis in southern states, and a number of new services for West Bengal.
Ms Banerjee is also likely to announce expediting project works of upcoming locomotive and coach manufacturing units in states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal, and expansion of Kolkata Metro network. With frequent train accidents becoming a major issue for the railways, she is likely to announce enhanced budgetary allocation to address the problem. Ms Banerjee had earlier met finance minister Pranab Mukherjee in this regard.
Some of the safety measures include the implementation of Anti-Collision Device (ACD) and Train Protection Warning System (TPWS) in certain congested routes. Improving passenger amenities in stations and onboard trains, tightening security measures which include raising a special all-woman force would also find mention in the Budget.
The sources said more passenger reservation counters would be announced and the Tatkal scheme would be made more passenger-friendly besides launching of a new passenger enquiry number (138). Opening of more affordable food outlets like Janahar and improving hygiene conditions in preparation of food for passengers are also likely to find mention.
The railway minister is expected to reach out to the farming community by taking forward the kisan vision scheme and announcing introduction of special trains for transportation of farm produce. Putting its unused land to best use, the minister is set to lay the grounds to woo more private investment for its commercial utilisation.
Railways had already announced a tie-up with the health and human resources development (HRD) ministries for setting up medical facilities and ‘Kendriya Vidyalayas’ on rail land.
The Budget is also expected to lay emphasis on the proposed dedicated freight corridor, as the Vision Document envisages operationalisation of the corridor before 2020.
The document also mentioned optimum utilisation of the railways’ land bank and setting up multi-modal logistic parks and industrial hubs along the corridor.
Interacting with captains of Indian industry earlier this month, the railway minister laid stress on private participation in expansion of rail network.
The revenue-sharing model for private participation in laying new rail tracks is likely to find mention in the Budget. Keeping the wagon shortage in mind, the Budget might also contain measures to tackle the problem through a new wagon procurement policy.
Home minister Chidambaram claims to have suggested that SBI should have bought Citibank in 2008 when its shares were going at $1. Wonder why he has decided to dedicate his life to harassing tax payers and Naxalites, when we could have easily run billion-dollar hedge funds with his superb sense of timing.
According to the finest minds in finance, you cannot time the market. Of course, there are exceptions. George Soros is one. He can ride up when a bubble is blowing and flip over when the bubble bursts. However, the market-timers are a rare breed, and run their own billion-dollar hedge funds. To this rare breed, one should now add Palaniappan Chidambaram, legal eagle, former finance minister and currently home minister of India. Speaking at a momentous occasion like the 54th Foundation Day of the All-India Management Association in New Delhi, he claimed to have told OP Bhatt, chairman of State Bank of India, in late 2008, “Why don’t you buy Citibank?” Apparently, he had made this suggestion thrice. “Citibank’s shares were going at $1 a share. That is the time when we should have bought,” he announced.
This is news to us and shows an unknown side of the home minister. In late 2008, when the largest of funds were struggling for survival; when the smartest of brains were worried that the world was headed for a second Great Depression; when the most liquid and deepest markets in the world were frozen and paralysed, the then finance minister was asking the SBI chairman, not once but thrice, to buy Citibank. This is a remarkable transition for someone who once famously said: “I know Khan market. I don’t know anything about the stock market.”
Well, you can say hindsight is 20/20 (how right he was!), or you can admire the prudence of State Bank or you can wonder why Chidambaram has decided to dedicate his life to harassing tax payers and Naxalites, when he could have easily run billion-dollar hedge funds with his superb sense of timing. But beyond that, several issues arise from Chidambaram’s statement. India does not have a liberal banking regime. Foreigners cannot easily buy into Indian banks (ask Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation about its “strategic” stake in Axis. It had to sell the stake after a period of frustration). Well, for that matter, even Indians cannot easily buy into Indian banks. There are severe restrictions on ownership and voting rights. And here is the former FM suggesting that an Indian bank should buy Citibank when it was seen to be drowning in a sea of toxic assets! Indeed, can State Bank simply buy a major foreign bank even under normal circumstances? Would the prudent Reserve Bank of India have allowed it? By the way, under Chidambaram’s tenure as the FM, there were hardly any financial sector reforms. His regime will be better remembered for maddeningly complicated taxes and massive loan waivers.
Chidambaram’s suggestion to Bhatt was bold. But boldness in financial business is not necessarily prudent. After all, as the old Wall Street saying goes: “There are bold traders. There are old traders. But there are no bold, old traders.” But who can tell that to a Home Minister?
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