Ahead of his maiden rail budget Tuesday, Railway Minister Pawan
Kumar Bansal has promised a 24X7 helpline for women that will be
tracked real time, with top priority accorded to safety of
passengers, especially women.
"The safety and security of passengers, especially women, is top
priority of the Indian Railways," Bansal told IANS in an exclusive
interview. "It's not possible to deploy women constables in each
of the 51,000 coaches. But soon there would be round-the-clock
toll-free helpline for women and this will be tracked on real-time
To ensure the security of women in trains, especially to end
chain- and purse-snatching incidents, the railways would ensure
that no male passenger travels in all-women coaches, he said.
In the exclusive conversation with IANS on board the Shatabdi
Express to his hometown Chandigarh, Bansal said most suggestions
for women's safety have come from the public.
His comments come at a time when the safety of women commuting on
public transport has come under a spotlight after a young woman in
the national capital was gang-raped on a bus Dec 16.
Among the railways' priorities will be launching over 100 new
trains, especially on some religious tourism sections, speeding up
derailed projects, cleanliness of stations, improving catering
and, of course, setting finances in order, ministry sources said.
"You all have to wait until the budget is presented," said Bansal,
the administrator of the world's third largest rail network under
a single management, when asked about the further hike in rail
fare to counter the increase in the fuel bill by over Rs.3,000
crore due to recent diesel price hike.
"If we have money, then we will be in a position to provide better
facilities. As per my feedback, the passengers are saying, 'You
provide us facilities, the marginal hike will not affect us'," the
Bansal, however, did not categorically deny that there would be no
further hike in train fares, especially in executive classes, to
raise revenues for the cash-strapped Indian Railways.
Fares of all classes were increased last month to net an
additional annual revenue of Rs.1,200 crore by the end this fiscal
alone. The budget may see some further hike in freight charges in
the wake of the economic recession.
"Economic slowdown has reduced our earnings from freight. There is
a decline in steel and cement transportation. During Lalu's
(Prasad) tenure, there was increase in the load capacity. But the
extra load capacity is not repaying us right now. It's a matter of
The railways have to go for public-private partnership to mop up
additional resources for projects like setting up high-speed
The railways had initially selected the Mumbai-Ahmedabad high
speed rail project, which alone needs more than Rs.60,000 crore,
For improving catering, which is valued at Rs.2,000 crore, Bansal
said: "Our emphasis is now on setting up state-of-the-art base
kitchens at most railway stations."
Ceanliness will also be high on the agenda. For this, he said, 100
railway stations have been shortlisted.
"Depositing human excreta at the railway stations is a problem. We
have got suggestions to close toilets (when the train is parked at
the station) but a final call on this is yet to be taken."
The forthcoming budget is expected to have special outlay on
safety and modernisation of trains.
"If we have money, then we will be in a position to man issues of
passenger safety and facilities in a better way," the minister
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)