New Delhi: Union Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal presented Railway Budget for the fiscal year 2013-14 in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hailed the Budget announcements made by the Railway Minster terming it reformist whereas the opposition called it visionless.

Reacting to the Railway Budget, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said, “The Rail Budget is reformist and forward-looking. The Budget presents a realistic picture of railway Finances.”

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Speaking after the presentation of Rail Budget in the Lok Sabha, Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram said, “It is a remarkable and commendable budget. The Railway Minister has presented a very responsible, practical and implementable budget." Chidambaram also commended his cabinet colleague Bansal for presenting finances of the railways in a very candid manner.

Giving his reaction, Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal also termed as "forward-looking" the Railway Budget presented by Bansal. He said the Budget has a vision of taking care of passengers. Noting that Bansal had "honestly" stated that the Railway sector was not in very good financial condition," he said. "I congratulate the Railway Minister for presenting a very practical, useful budget which will in the years to come really take care of the Railways through their own resources."

Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari said the Railway Minister has done a "commendable job" and kept "a very fine balance". Tewari said he had been able to "reconcile various imperatives" while keeping the larger growth story of Railways in mind.

External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid also said Bansal has done "a very good balancing job." Commenting on the Rail Budget, Deputy Chairman Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia said it was right to move  towards improving the operating ratio.

"We are improving operating ratio, which I think is right thing to do," he said. Referring to hike in freight, Ahluwalia said: "Although we are raising freight rates to reflect diesel price hike, otherwise additional revenue is largely going to come through efficiency."

BJP calls it 'Rae Bareli budget'

On the other hand the main opposition party, BJP, termed it visionless. Mocking at Railway Minister PK Bansal for mentioning Rae Bareli thrice in his budget speech, the Lok Sabha constituency of Congress chief Soni Gandhi, the party also called the budget- Rae Bareli budget.

Speaking to media, Former Union Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha said, “The Rail Budget lacks vision. Raising freight rate by five percent will have inflationary impact on economy.” Describing it as "very, very pedestrian" and a "political budget" aimed at the forthcoming general elections, he said, "The Railway Minister acknowledged that railway finances were not properly handled during the previous years which led to the present situation. The PM was listening. This PM had earlier said that the Budget is good, this year also he is saying the same thing irrespective of who the Rail Minister is."

"This is not rail budget but Rae Bareli budget. This budget has not been prepared keeping in mind the whole country and this is the reason one could see an attempt to disrupt the budget presentation due to unrest among the MPs," Gopinath Munde said.

The main opposition claimed that the NDA ruled states had been discriminated against. "Especially, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh have been totally ignored and there are no new schemes for these states. This budget is for Amethi, Rae Bareli and Chandigarh. This is a discriminatory budget," he said.

BJP president Rajnath Singh termed the Rail budget an "eyewash" as passenger fares have already been hiked before the budget session of Parliament. "Now the government has introduced dynamic fuel adjustment component on freight rates that will result in a five per cent increase in rates. Any increase in freight rates is bound to push all round inflation in the country," he said.

He also rued the hike in Tatkal reservation and superfast charges. "The Railways suffer from the UPA's economic disorientation and financial mismanagement," Singh said. Other "shortcomings" enumerated by him included reduction in creation of new rail tracks, no positive outlook towards passenger safety and strengthening of infrastructure.

"Railways has presented a deficit of Rs 24,600 crore without showing any signs of improvement in infrastructure or passenger amenities.... The rail budget has definitely exposed the UPA government's inability and lack of vision to revive the ailing Indian railways," Singh said.

Poor and middle class ignored: BSP

BSP supremo Mayawati said the rail budget was a "disappointment". "The poor and middle classes will not benefit much from it.... Fare has been hiked through backdoor," she said, a charge echoed by the Left parties which claimed that the Rail Minister had camouflaged the hike. She also charged that the government "talks big but does not deliver. The railway platforms are very dirty, the passenger seats are in a bad shape, the food is not good."

SP describes Rail Budget as anti-people

“I have never seen such an anti-people budget in my political life.... This is a budget for Congress...you can give new trains for Rae Bareli (Lok Sabha constituency of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi), but don't ignore Bundelkhand and Poorvanchal," SP chief Mulayam said

CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury said the budget will have cascading effect on prices and "none of its plans are likely to fructify". The Left parties also appeared sceptic about plans to carry out expansion amd modernisation through PPP mode and said the budget had little to offer on the issue of increasing safety, which was a matter of "grave concern" for the country.

(JPN/Agencies)

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