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[February 26, 2013]
Indian gov't unveils pro-people railway budget
NEW DELHI, Feb 26, 2013 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- India's ruling Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government Tuesday unveiled a "pro- people" railway budget for the fiscal 2013 to 2014, putting growth of the sector as well as passenger amenities and safety as priorities.
Indian Railways Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal presented the rail budget in Parliament, clearly steering clear of any passenger fare hike and informing the huge losses the network is currently facing.
"The growth of Indian Railways is inextricably linked with the growth of the country. It must remain financially sustainable.
Resources generated must be ploughed back," the Railways Minister said, adding that the railways still remains the single most important catalyst in India's growth story.
Expressing grief over the loss of lives in a stampede in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh's town of Allahabad's main railway station recently, the Minister stressed that commuters deserve safe and comfortable travel. "Safety is a necessary mandate for running trains. With the untiring endeavor of the railway family to address human failure and technical deficiencies, there has been a significant reduction in the incidence of rail accidents. We will strive to work towards a zero accident situation," he said.
He also spoke of increasing safety of women passengers, announcing deployment of female security personnel on trains.
The Minister asserted that the remaining 13,000-odd unmanned level crossings across the country will be mechanized to prevent any future mishaps.
He also announced a project that will allow passengers to book railway tickets from their mobiles, and said that the railways would soon start an SMS alert system for passengers which will provide updates on reservation status. He even spoke of providing free wireless internet connections on many trains. He said: "I plan to roll out a more efficient and people sensitive railway service system. As a follow up to overwhelming response to Indian Railways website and integrated train inquiry service under 193, a project of SMS alerts to passengers providing updates on reservation status is being rolled out shortly." Experts say that Bansal, who is the first Railway Minister from Congress party in nearly 17 years to present the railway budget, had met with widespread political criticism after he hiked railway fares last month. So, this is a "pro-people" budget keeping in mind the general elections slated for next year. India's state-owned railway is one of the world's largest railway networks, operating some 9,000 passenger trains and carrying over 18 million passengers everyday.
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