New Delhi, February 26:
Indian Railways, on the verge of bankruptcy six years ago, will post a surplus of $4.4 billion this fiscal year and spend the money on its accident-prone network, the rail minister said on Monday.
Lalu Prasad Yadav had to shout amid uproar in the parliament as he presented next yearâ€™s budget for the state-owned service. Indiaâ€™s fiscal year starts April 1.
â€œUnder the previous administration the railways was bankrupt but now we have turned it around,â€ Yadav said.
The minister promised lower fares and more comforts such as cushioned-seats instead of wooden benches. He also said the network would add a slew of new carriages and services at stations to boost revenues further next year.
â€œSecond class carriages â€” with wooden seats and sleeping berths will be replaced by comfortable cushioned seats,â€ Yadav said.
The railway, started by Indiaâ€™s former British colonial rulers, has around 1.6 million employees, making it the worldâ€™s biggest civilian employer and runs thousands of trains daily. But the 150-year-old railway which transports more than 15 million people daily in
the country of 1.1 billion people has been notorious for its antiquated equipment, financial losses, delays and red tape.
The sprawling network also reports around 300 accidents a year, many deadly, and is also the the target of terror attacks.
Last week bomb blasts on a special train service with neighbouring Pakistan left 68 dead, including many Pakistanis returning from New Delhi, in an apparent attempt to derail a peace process between the countries.
Kerosene was used to create a huge firebomb aboard the â€œFriendship Expressâ€ as it headed north to Lahore, police said.
Yadav, a former chief minister of Indiaâ€™s lawless state of Bihar until corruption allegations led him to step aside in favour of his wife, has won kudos from management experts for turning around the railways since taking his post in May 2004.
The turnaround was deemed even more remarkable because experts warned in 2000 that the railway faced bankruptcy with a surplus of just 3.5 billion rupees and was mired in a â€œterminal debt trap.â€
Finance minister Palaniappan Chidambaram, complimented the railway ministerâ€™s efforts, Press Trust of India reported.
Describing the rail budget as â€œgrowth-oriented,â€ Chidambaram said, â€œThis has shown the way how growth can benefit all,â€ Chidambaram said. Indian industry too hailed Yadavâ€™s proposals.
â€œThe general approach of the budget was to improve efficiency and higher output,â€ said J P Choudhary, chairman of the railways equipment division of the Confederation of Indian Industry.
â€œThe minister is taking innovative measures and if this tempo continues railways will be one of the pillars of our growth in the coming years,â€ he said. D S Rawat, secretary general of the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry, too lauded Yadav.