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Kolkata, Sept. 9

THERE will be no hike either of Railway passenger fares or of freight rates as a sequel to the recent rise in diesel and petrol prices, according to Ms Vijayalakshmi Viswanathan, Financial Commissioner of the Indian Railways.

"The impact of the fuel price hike will be marginal which the Railways, with a budget of Rs 40,000 crore, will be able to absorb," Ms Viswanathan said here on Friday. She was talking to newspersons after delivering keynote speech at the Indian Railways Accounts Service Platinum Jubilee seminar on "Freight Mission for Indian railways - Issues & Challenges".

She explained that every one rupee increase in diesel price slapped an additional burden of Rs 210 crore annually on the Railways. The burden of Rs 2 increase, therefore, would be around Rs 420 crore on annualised basis. Since more than five months of the current fiscal had elapsed, the impact would be for nearly seven months.

The freight target for the current fiscal, as she pointed out, had undergone revisions. In the Rail Budget for 2005-06, the target was fixed at 635 million tonnes (mt) as compared to the actual throughput of 602 mt in 2004-05. Subsequently the Railway Minister revised the target upwards to 700 mt suggesting an additional throughput of nearly 100 mt in one year, which was not easy to achieve. If the current trend was any indication, the Indian Railways might end up the current fiscal with a throughput of 670 mt or so, she said.

Indian Railways, as she pointed out, was now working on a corporate plan for 2020 to decide on the future targets for freight loading, passenger traffic and operating ratio and work out suitable strategies. "Our aim is to bring down the operating ratio to 85 per cent within four years from around 91 per cent now," she observed.

Earlier, while delivering the keynote address, Mr Viswanathan pointed out that the performance in the first quarter of the current fiscal reflected 13 per cent growth in freight traffic, 10 per cent in passenger traffic and 17 per cent in earnings vis-à-vis the same period of the last year. The items whose transportation recorded impressive growth included raw materials for steel plants, iron & steel and iron ore for exports. The throughput of foodgrains was low.

While several measures already introduced had helped the Railways to handle higher volumes of freight, there was still considerable scope for regaining the traffic lost, she said and stressed the need for attracting non-bulk high rated cargoes. "An accelerated programme of containerisation will contribute towards increasing the share of the Railways in non-bulk traffic," she said.

Mr Justice V.S. Sirpurkar, Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court, while inaugurating the seminar, urged the Railways to guard its properties jealously, even if for nothing else, to ensure safety of the passengers and regularity of services. "The Railways is within its powers to do so," he said adding that the proposed administrative authority should help the Railways in this regard.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated September 10, 2005)
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