India Insight

Railway Budget 2014: Highlights at a glance

Railways Minister Mallikarjun Kharge left train fares and freight rates unchanged on Wednesday, in an interim rail budget ahead of a national election due by May.

It wasn’t really a surprise. In 2012, Dinesh Trivedi was forced to resign as railways minister after his decision to raise passenger fares for the first time in eight years prompted a furious response from his own party — the Trinamool Congress — that was part of the Congress-led coalition government at the time.

The government did raise fares last year, this time with a Congressman at the helm of affairs, as a cash-strapped railways ministry tried to raise money to pay its employees.

But there was no repeat of that on Wednesday, as any hike in passenger fares would have run the risk of upsetting commuters in a crucial election year. The government limited itself to announcing some people-friendly measures without increasing fares.

Here are some of the key announcements for passengers travelling on the world’s fourth-largest railway network:

‘Powerful’ Mamata has much to lose

Time Magazine’s decision to name Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief Mamata Banerjee one of the world’s 100 most powerful people couldn’t have been more ironic.

It comes at a time when the “populist woman of action” is drawing criticism from many quarters after some of her fledgling government’s recent decisions sparked public outrage and a media furore.

No doubt Banerjee is still powerful. She’s been instrumental in stalling some of India’s biggest economic reforms and key policy decisions. But the state of West Bengal is now facing the heat of her maverick actions.