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Despite increase in fuel prices — Minister rules out hike in rail fares

Our Bureau

Kolkata , Jan. 19

THE Union Minister for Railways, Mr Nitish Kumar, has said here that the Government would not increase the rail fares despite a gradual increase in the fuel prices during the last few months.

As the Government has shifted itself into an election mode with the announcement of major sops, Mr Kumar felt that maintaining the railway fares at the existing level is a "big enough sop" for the electorate.

According to him, Indian Railways consume more than 200 crore litres of diesel every year for running trains. Hence, when fuel prices increases by Re 1 per litre, Indian Railways annual expenditure shoots up by Rs 200 crore.

"We have not passed on this burden to the commuters. Indian Railways have absorbed the financial burden of the rising fuel prices and, mind you, it is a huge amount. Instead we have tried to reduce to our expenses on other accounts. Isn't it a big enough election sop?" he asked.

Mr Kumar was talking to the presspersons after addressing the inaugural function of the National Technical Seminar on construction and rehabilitation of railway track organised by the Institution of Permanent Way Engineers (India).

This is a technical body set up in 1967 under the Union Railways Ministry for disseminating various types of knowledge on design, construction and maintenance of railway track.

The Minister said that Indian Railways is also working out a modern bridge management system for maintenance of old bridges. According to him, railways face major difficulty for underwater inspection of bridges and in calculating the residual life span of these bridges. Moreover, there is hardly any construction or maintenance record of these old bridges.

In this context, he talked about the Special Railway Safety Fund. The initial corpus of it was Rs 17,000 crore and it started operating from October 1, 2001. In the first six months, Rs 1,434 crore was spent of which Rs 305 was collected from the commuters, Rs 1,002 crore was given by the Union Government as a grant and the rest from the internal accruals of the Railways.

During 2002-03, the annual spending on this account was Rs 2,310 crore and in the current financial year, 2003-04, another Rs 2,400 crore will be spend. In 2001, Indian Railways found 16,500 km of track is long overdue for renewal. By the end of the current financial year, approximately 8,500 km will be overhauled under this scheme.

Apart from the 16,500 km of track, 2,700 bridges and signalling system of 1,300 stations and fore mega bridges are also covered under this programme.

"This is a six-year programme and it will be completed within the stipulated time. There will not be any shortage of funds because the Union government is committed to replace the over-aged assets of Indian Railways," Mr Kumar said.

It may be noted that the railways manage 1.2 lakh bridges, of which 40 per cent are over 100 years old. There is an urgent need to repair these bridges. The annual cost for the maintenance of bridges have increased from Rs 60 crore to Rs 300 crore.

Mr S.M Singhla, Member of the Railway Board, said there are indications that railways will overshoot the annual freight movement target of 540 million tonnes for 2003-04.

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