Our Bureau

Kolkata, Feb. 27

THE Bharat Chamber of Commerce (BCC) has commended the Union Railway Minister, Mr Lalu Prasad, for introducing the `Wagon Investment Scheme' to encourage public-private partnership in procurement of wagons.

The BCC feels that this is a right step to meet the anticipated incremental freight traffic.

While lauding the proposals on exemption for PDS items from any freight hike, the BCC President, Mr Santosh Rungta, regretted that the Budget did not contain any concrete measure to garner the required resources for implementation of a number of modernisation and development schemes.

Mr Ramesh Maheswari, President & CEO of Texmaco Ltd, and former President of CII, said the Minister had addressed the longstanding plea of the wagon industry to introduce aluminium and double-decker wagons, which are extensively used overseas. This would considerably enhance the carrying capacity. He said that the Rs 24,000-crore modernisation fund should be substantially spent on improving haulage capacity of the Railways.

Welcoming the wagon investment scheme, Mr Maheswari said that shortage of wagons and idle capacity in the wagon industry had continued to co-exist over the years. He also appreciated the proposal to end the monopoly of Concor and invite private sector participation.

The decision to set up a wheel and axle plant in Chhapra was also welcomed. Availability of wheel sets was currently proving critical bottleneck to maintain wagon production, he added.

Appreciating the proposals for keeping the freight rate unchanged, keeping the freight rate of LPG and kerosene down marginally, simplifying categories of goods from 4000 to 80 groups, signing of MoU with the Central Warehousing Corporation for putting up 22 wagons adjacent to the railway station and the formation of Railway Development Authority for commercial use of unutilised land under the Railways, the President of Bengal National Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Mr S.N. Nundy, expressed disappointment for small allocation in railway safety and security measures, doubling of lines, conversion to broad and electrification of the Railways.

The President of Merchants' Chamber of Commerce, Mr Aditya V. Agarwal, felt that the `historic changes" made in the goods traffic scheme by reducing the existing 4,000 commodities into only 80 groups, each having a single uniform class irrespective of raw materials or finished goods, would certainly push up the freight burden across-the-board for all industrial raw materials and output, thus fuelling high inflation in the economy.

He was disappointed that there was no attempt to bring down cross-subsidy element. The President of Calcutta Chamber of Commerce, Mr Pradeep Sancheti, said that a few changes in freight rates might be good for the Railways to remain competitive vis-à-vis road and air transport.

It was praiseworthy that the Minister has announced the introduction of 46 new train services, extension of 28 trains and increasing frequency of 10 trains.

However, he deplored that the Minister did not make any attempt to simplify the commercial rules and procedures, which are cumbersome and lock up huge amount of money in litigation for years.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated February 28, 2005)
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