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Feb 05 2017 (12:18)  Jugglery with figures, says VS (www.thehindu.com)
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Veteran Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)] leader V.S. Achuthanandan has described the Union Budget for 2017-18 as a jugglery with figures and lacking a sense of reality.
Mr. Achuthanandan, in his Budget reaction on Wednesday, said that while doling out benefits to corporates, it did not have proposals to bring the nation out of the crisis thrown up by demonetisation. No proposal had been made for creating jobs, improving the life of the common man, or check inflation.
The price of LPG had been raised too. The State was not granted AIIMS.
No major project had been sanctioned for the railway sector too. It seemed as if there was no such State like Kerala in the country, he said.
Feb 05 2017 (12:14)  TS gets Rs. 1,729 cr. for railway works (www.thehindu.com)
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News Entry# 293167     
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‘Allocations for new projects will be known only when demand for grants is tabled in Parliament’
Telangana State has been allotted funds to the tune of Rs. 1,729 crore for the year 2017-18 for various railway works, in the Union Budget presented by Finance Minister Arun Jaitely here on Wednesday.
The amount was against an average of Rs. 601 crore allocated in the last two years. However, details of the new projects and allocations for the ongoing projects would be known only when the demand for grants is tabled in the Parliament, said
South Central Railway General Manager Vinod Kumar Yadav. Addressing a press conference, flanked by his senior colleagues, he said that with regard to Andhra Pradesh, also served by SCR, the fund allocation was Rs. 3,406 crore against the last two years average of Rs. 2,195.7 crore.
Major redevelopment
Secunderabad and Vijayawada stations are in the line for a major redevelopment out of the 37 chosen under its control with lifts and escalators. There are over 36 lifts at 15 stations and there was a plan to add 34 lifts more in at 20 stations. In 11 stations 16 escalators are to be installed in addition to the 39 provided for in 14 stations.
Line to Yadadri
While the MMTS phase two is on course to be completed by the end of 2018, the SCR is in the process of signing a joint venture agreement with the TS Government for taking line to Yadadri.
SCR also expects to equip all the remaining 1,115 coaches with bio-toilets next year with more than 4,000 coaches already fitted with them.
And, of the 355 remaining unmanned level crossings, 170 of them are to be eliminated in the financial year and remaining in the coming years.
Mr. Yadav explained that as part of capacity enhancing works, third line constructions are currently going on the Ballarshah-Kazipet and Vijayawada-Gudur sections. Last year, 267.25 kms of new track was laid including 230.55 km of new line, 12.45 km of double line and 24.3 km of third line.
Feb 05 2017 (12:12)  Merger of Railway and Union budgets evokes mixed response (www.thehindu.com)
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‘Decision has resulted in the powers of the Railway Board being curtailed’
The Railway Budget which was merged with the Union Budget this year and presented on Wednesday by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has evoked mixed response.
The former president of the Hyderabad Karnataka Chamber of Commerce and Industries Umakanth Niggudagi said that the downsize of the Railway Budget was that it no longer existed as a separate entity. “A separate Railway Budget is always preferable as it is a detailed document. Indian Railways has more than a million employees and they require
a separate Budget. Moreover, the autonomy of the Railway Budget has been affected and so are the powers of the Railway Board,” he said. However, he welcomed the move to set up a security fund for passengers, abolition of service charges on e-tickets, and upgradation of 500 stations under the PPP model.
However, welcoming the merger of the Railway Budget with the Union Budget, president of the Karnatak Chamber of Commerce and Industries, Ramesh Patil and its office-bearers said that the decisions to install escalators and ramps in 500 stations were welcome.
Chartered Accountant from Hubballi N.A. Charantimath said that with Rs. 3.72 lakh crore being allocated to the infrastructure sector, including Railways, it would help strengthening the rail network.
Feb 05 2017 (12:00)  Scrapping of service charge spells doom for reservation counters (www.thehindu.com)
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News Entry# 293164   Blog Entry# 2152409     
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It is aimed at privatising railway operations, says railway union
Union Government’s decision to scrap service charges on train tickets booked through Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) is likely to expedite the dependency of passengers on the reservation counters at railway stations.
The service charges were at the rate of Rs. 20 and Rs. 40 for sleeper class and air-conditioned coaches respectively.
is the right move by the Centre to cut down on railway expenditure as the railway administration has been paying for Enquiry-cum-reservation clerk, computers, electricity and other related infrastructure at railway reservation counters,” a railway official said.
Already, with increased internet penetration, passengers prefer to book railway tickets sitting at home or office.
Online bookings of tickets through the IRCTC had gone up to 58 per cent even a year back.
Besides the ease of booking tickets sitting at home or through travel agents, the passengers save huge money and time on travelling to railway stations or satellite reservation centres and for waiting in the queue.
The scrapping of service charges comes at a time when internet penetration is at a faster pace with mobile operators vying with one another to provide free internet package, cheaper net packs and faster connectivity using 4G technology.
The Union Government’s push for less cash transactions post-demonetisation will only give more fillip to online booking.
“The biggest advantage of online booking is cancellation of wait-listed tickets becomes automatic whereas passengers have to visit booking counters again in case of manually-issued tickets,” the official said.
‘Privatisation move’
Already the railway administration had been closing down several reservation counters without any fresh recruitment for the ECRCs. Re-deployment of the ECRCs too had been happening, said general secretary of Southern Railway Mazdoor Union N. Kannaiah.
“The present move to scrap service charges is only to promote the profit-making IRCTC and close down the reservation counters. But, it is only a temporary measure with an aim to privatise railway operations. Once privatisation takes place, the private players will fix the service charges,” he added.
“This will neither benefit the railway employees, who will lose jobs, nor the passengers, who will eventually end up paying more,” Mr. Kannaiah added.

Feb 05 2017 (14:26)
a~   145 blog posts
Re# 2152409-1            Tags   Past Edits
Online booking is a win-win situation for IR as well as paxs, IR saves heavily through saving on operation & maintenance of RRCs and salary of the staff.
It would be a better scenario, if majority of RRCs are closed down in near future with increased access of Indian public to internet access. The onward reservation facility has to be given to online booking paxs also.

Feb 05 2017 (14:32)
rajeevame~   2048 blog posts   70 correct pred (66% accurate)
Re# 2152409-2            Tags   Past Edits
Waiving off the service charge has been the biggest boon for the passengers and has prompted many to book online. Moreover many banks have even waived off the bank charges which was being levied earlier. (Axis bank). So a the end of the day you are paying only the original fare without standing in queues waiting for your number and avoiding any type of travel to stations.

Feb 05 2017 (15:20)
knkprasad956*^~   2131 blog posts
Re# 2152409-3            Tags   Past Edits
Waiving of service charges was a long standing demand. It is a boon to passengers who could save lot of time and money. It also helps railways as counters may see reduced number of public and can give a better service.as many CPRS counters in major cities attract a heavy rush during holidays, festival etc.
Feb 05 2017 (11:53)  A fine balance (www.thehindu.com)
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Coming within three months of the Central government’s purge of high-value currency notes that has dampened economic activity, particularly in the informal sector, it was imperative that Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley soothed frayed nerves with Budget 2017-18. It was equally critical that he provided a glimpse of a larger plan to prevent regeneration of black money, the original intent behind the demonetisation of Rs. 500 and Rs. 1,000 notes. He has managed to do both to a fair degree, without resorting to the easy options of blatant populism or spending his way out of trouble in a slowing economy. Apart from funding the sops announced a month ago by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for vulnerable sections of society, the Finance Minister has done his best to further ease the pain of people most impacted by the adverse effects of demonetisation. The tax rate for small and medium enterprises with an...
annual turnover of up to Rs. 50 crore, which are the bulwark of job-creation but end up paying higher taxes than large companies, has been slashed to 25%. For corporates, though, there is no road map on lower tax rates. In addition, halving the personal income tax rate from 10% to 5% for those in the lowest tax slab of Rs. 2.5 lakh to Rs. 5 lakh not only puts more money in the hands of this segment, but is also an effective nudge to bring more people into the formal tax net. All other taxpayers have been given a benefit of Rs. 12,500 each.
There is a redistributive element to such sops, with part of the revenue loss from these income tax giveaways being funded by a 10% surcharge on the income tax of those in the Rs. 50 lakh to Rs. 1 crore bracket. Mr. Jaitley hinted as much, saying the demonetisation has helped transfer resources from tax-evaders to the government. He disclosed that there has been a remarkable 34% rise in advance personal income tax collections in the first three quarters of 2016-17, after recording single-digit growth in the previous two years. Perhaps the note ban has put the fear of the law into many tax- dodgers. Some logical next steps have been taken, including a bar on cash transactions of more than Rs. 3 lakh, a nudge to businesses to make all payments over Rs. 10,000 digitally, and rationalising the costs of non-cash payments. Granting infrastructure status to affordable housing, together with a few changes in the tax treatment to incentivise builders, and the interest subventions already announced for low-ticket home loans, could spur construction activity, and thus job-creation. There is higher allocation for MGNREGA, irrigation and infrastructure projects.
With the Goods and Services Tax on the horizon, Mr. Jaitley has refrained from tinkering too much with indirect taxes. Although a high-level panel that reviewed the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act has recommended deviations from fiscal deficit targets after far-reaching structural reforms such as the demonetisation, he has done well to refuse to deviate from the fiscal consolidation road map and alter India’s strong macroeconomic fundamentals. There may be no big new schemes or dramatic reforms; the big bang in this Budget is the shift from unfettered populism. On the flip side, the promise to confiscate assets of defaulters such as Vijay Mallya who flee the country and, separately, clean up electoral funding — the most potent root of corruption — appear to be red herrings at best. Provisions already exist to attach assets of defaulters to recover dues. And reducing the cash donation limit from any one source to political parties from Rs. 20,000 to Rs. 2,000 is meaningless as long as there is no cap on the number of such people who can make donations anonymously. More clarity is also needed on the electoral bonds proposed to be issued to protect donors from any adverse effects of baring their political leanings.
With the railway budget subsumed by the overall exercise for the first time, and against the backdrop of a series of train accidents, there was expectation that a strong programme on rail safety would be outlined. The Rs. 1 lakh crore to be devoted over five years for a safety fund, the Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh, will have to address the many imperatives identified by expert panels such as the Kakodkar Committee. The Railways have a long list of tasks, starting with acquisition of advanced signalling for train control and, as the Budget notes, elimination of level crossings for smooth operations. Replacement of carriages of old design with the better-engineered Linke-Hofmann Busch coaches would cost at least Rs. 10,000 crore. On the commercial side, passenger tariffs are to be calculated taking into account costs, social obligations and competition from other modes of transport. The objective of the country’s biggest organisation, however, should be to use the higher capacities on identified travel corridors to provide safe, comfortable and affordable travel for all. This can be done relying on a rise in revenues from integrated freight solutions that the Budget has spoken of. Apart from the dovetailing of the railway budget, the abolition of the distinction between Plan and Non-Plan expenditure and its early presentation, Union Budget 2017-18 marks another break from tradition. It is the first time Mr. Jaitley extensively turned to poetry as he began his deftly crafted, workmanlike Budget by referring to a season of optimism. With just one more full-year Budget likely before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Modi government must now put all its energy behind implementing the legislative and administrative reforms it has promised, to translate that optimism into visible change on the ground.
Feb 05 2017 (11:51)  Budget softens de-mon blow (www.thehindu.com)
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IT relief, rural development, cap on political funding are the highlights of Jaitley’s Budget for 2017-18
Softening the demonetisation blow, the Budget for 2017-18 on Wednesday halved the tax to 5 per cent on incomes up to Rs 5 lakh, but proposed a new surcharge of 10 per cent on incomes between Rs 50 lakh and Rs 1 crore and raised duties on cigarettes and pan masala while stepping up allocations for infrastructure, rural, agriculture and social sectors.
Breaking from the past, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley presented a historic Budget in which the
railway budget has been merged and the date advanced by a month, retaining the 15 per cent surcharge on taxable income above Rs 1 crore.
While the surcharge alone would net Rs 2,700 crore a year, his giveaway on direct tax proposals will result in a loss of Rs 15,500 crore.
Against the backdrop of demonetisation intended to eliminate black money and introduce clean transactions, the Budget barred any transaction in cash above Rs 3 lakh. As a measure of transparency in political funding, he lowered to one-tenth the donation that political parties can accept in cash to Rs 2000 per donor.
The Finance Minister expressed confidence that the pace of remonetisation has picked up and would soon reach comfortable levels with effects not expected to spillover into the next fiscal.
In view of the fact that the proposed GST is expected to be rolled out soon, he left indirect taxes largely untouched expect for some changes in duties on tobacco products, solar panels and circuit for mobile phones.
In a bid to boost the rural and informal sectors hurt by the note ban, the Budget raised the target for agriculture credit during the coming year to a record Rs 10 lakh crore that will ensure flow of credit to under serviced areas.
The Budget provides for Rs 9000 crore under the Crop Insurance Scheme and proposed to set up a dedicated micro-irrigation fund under NABARD with an initial corpus of Rs 5,000 crore.
In a bid to boost infrastructure spending, the Minister proposed a total of Rs 1,31,000 crore towards capital and development expenditure of railways which includes Rs 55,000 crore provided by the government.
Focus of Railways
The Railways will focus on four major areas of passenger safety, capital and development work, cleanliness and finance and accounting reforms. A passenger safety fund is being created with a corpus of Rs 1 lakh crore over five years and a plan for modernisation and upgradation of identified corridors.
Railway lines of 3,500 km will be commissioned in the next fiscal as against 2,800 km in the previous year. Steps will be taken to dedicate trains for tourism and pilgrimages.
Defence expenditure, excluding pensions, has been pegged Rs 274,114 crore for FY18 including Rs 86,488 crore for capital.
With the abolition of plan, non-plan expenditure, the focus will be now on capital and revenue expenditure, Jaitley said.
“This will have multiplier effect and will lead to higher growth.PTI
Feb 05 2017 (11:50)  Ramanathapuram chamber hails budget proposals (www.thehindu.com)
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The Ramanathapuram Chamber of Commerce and Industry has welcomed the Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s budget for the year 2017-18, presented on Wednesday.
Reacting to the budget proposals, Chamber president Asmabagh Anwardeen said that the proposal to reduce income tax from 10 % to 5 % in the annual income slabs between Rs. 2.5 to Rs. 5 lakh and simplified one-page returns form would receive appreciation from tax payers.
A proposal to confiscate the properties of bank loan defaulters was a step in the right direction, Mr. Anwardeen said adding proposal to issue
passports from head post offices was a good step to decentralise the exercise. The decision to abolish foreign investment improvement board and to simplify foreign investments would help direct foreign investments and boost the country’s economy. The announcement that Railways would function as an independent body was welcome but failure of introducing new trains was disappointing, he said.
The Railway budget had again disappointed as people were aspiring for a daytime train from Rameswaram to Chennai, he said.
Feb 05 2017 (11:45)  Growth-oriented Budget, says Railway Minister (www.thehindu.com)
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‘The provision of ₹1.31 lakh crore for capital expenditure is unprecedented in railway history’
Describing as unprecedented the provision of ₹1.31 lakh crore for Railways’ capital expenditure, Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu on Wednesday said the Budget was growth-oriented.
A new era had begun by not only adhering to fiscal prudence but also bringing social equity at the same time, Mr. Prabhu said after the Budget presentation by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.
growth will happen because of huge investments that is happening. For example in railways, the provision of ₹1.31 lakh crore for capital expenditure is unprecedented in railway history.”
The capital expenditure was pegged at ₹1.21 lakh crore last year.
He said the infrastructure investment would spur growth, while the social sector spending would bring equity for a new society and a new economy in the country.
‘Bold step’
Praising Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the “bold step”, he said the Budget has the “imprint” of Prime Minister’s ideas.
With railways plagued by repeated derailments, the government has proposed setting up of a special safety fund of ₹1 lakh crore that will cover upgrade of tracks and signalling besides elimination of unmanned level crossings. The Railway Budget also provides for commissioning of new railway lines of 3,500 km against 2,800 km in 2016-17.
Emphasising on safety, the Budget proposed elimination of all unmanned level crossings on the broad gauge network by 2020.
Disabled-friendly coaches
Addressing concerns of the differently-abled persons, Mr. Jaitley announced that 500 stations would be made disabled friendly.
The Budget also promised to equip all coaches with bio toilets and announced ‘Clean my coach’ App for passengers. — PTI
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Feb 05 2017 (11:42)  Five special zones to boost tourism, travel in country (www.thehindu.com)
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Incredible India 2.0 global campaign planned to attract foreign tourists
Tourism and travel will get a boost in the coming years as the government has provided an impetus in the Union Budget.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the government would set up up five Special Tourism Zones in partnership with States. These will be anchored as Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs).
Mr. Jaitley did not
provide any further details or the States where these tourism zones would come up.
“Tourism is a big employment generator and has a multiplier impact on the economy. Five Special Tourism Zones, anchored on SPVs, will be set up in partnership with the States,” the Finance Minister said in his Budget speech.
He said to boost the image of India in the international travel market the Incredible India 2.0 Campaign will be unveiled across the world in the coming financial year.
Besides, the government has asked the Railways to start dedicated trains for tourism and pilgrimage purposes. The government allocated ₹1,840.77 crore to the Tourism Ministry in the Budget, including ₹959.91 crore for the Integrated Development of Tourist Circuits around specific themes (Swadesh Darshan scheme).
The Ministry will be receiving a little over ₹250 crore more in the 2017-18 fiscal compared to the ongoing financial year, according to the budget document. Another ₹100 crore has been allocated for Pilgrimage Rejuvenation and Spiritual Augmentation Drive (PRASAD). Significantly, as much as ₹412 crore has been provided for promotion and publicity of the Tourism Ministry’s various programmes and schemes.
Under Swadesh Darshan, 13 thematic circuits have been identified for development, namely North-East India Circuit, Buddhist Circuit, Himalayan Circuit, Coastal Circuit, Krishna Circuit, Desert Circuit, Tribal Circuit, Eco Circuit, Wildlife Circuit, Rural Circuit, Spiritual Circuit, Ramayana Circuit and Heritage Circuit.
On the other hand, 13 cities — Ajmer, Amritsar, Amravati, Dwarka, Gaya, Kamakhaya, Kancheepuram, Kedarnath, Mathura, Patna, Puri, Varanasi and Velankanni — have been identified for development under PRASAD by the Tourism Ministry.
  Easy on the pocket
The decision to withdraw service charge on railway tickets booked from the IRCTC website will also boost tourism, said analysts.
Mahesh Iyer, COO, Thomas Cook (India) Limited said one of the biggest announcements is the “withdrawal of service charge on rail tickets booked through IRCTC. This will not only lead to more bookings but enable the consolidation of a digital economy.”
“Another significant development is the emphasis on safety and sanitation, by introducing bio-toilets, which will increase passenger comfort. It is also encouraging to note the measures that will be incorporated to make the Railways friendlier for the disabled.” he added.
The decision to start DigiGaons (digital villages) to facilitate employment and augmenting transactions via the BHIM app have been welcomed as consumer-centric steps.
(With PTI inputs)
Feb 05 2017 (11:39)  Infrastructure gets a major boost (www.thehindu.com)
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As the Budget is a combined one, the Centre can now synergise investments in rail, roads, rivers and civil aviation
Presented as the fifth component of a 10-point package to drive the government’s agenda to ‘transform, energise and clean India’, the 2017-18 Budget gives a major push to the infrastructure sector.
This sector will see a major rise in allocation from ₹3.4 lakh crore to ₹3.9 crore (BE). Transport (including rail,roads and shipping) accounts for a bulk of the expenditure at ₹2.4 lakh crore.
the opportunity of the first combined Budget, Arun Jaitley said that the government was now in a position to synergise investments in railways, roads, waterways and civil aviation.
Highways allocation
The Budget allocation for highways at ₹64,900 crore reflect a 12% hike. He said that 2,000 km of coastal roads had been identified for construction and development, facilitating better connectivity with ports and remote villages.
Aware that Railways faces stiff competition from other transportation modes, often in the private sector, Mr. Jaitley said: “Railways will implement end-to-end integrated transport solutions for select commodities through partnerships with logistic players, who would provide front and back-end connectivity.”
The Sagarmala project allocation will see a hike from the ₹450 crore Budget estimates to ₹600 crore. Metro projects, an important link in urban transportation has already received allocation hikes in this fiscal and is budgeted to get a further hike.
The Finance Minister said in his speech that among other things, the Budget’s thrust was to stimulate growth and the magnitude of investment in the transportation sector alone will spur economic activity and create job opportunities, through the push to infrastructure.
Industry and chambers of commerce agree. T.V. Narendran, CII Eastern Region chief and MD Tata Steel said that the infrastructure boost “will have a multiplier effect and bring about inclusive growth by connecting rural areas.” Vishwas Udrigar, partner, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, India, said that more detailing is required for implementation.
Shot in the arm for steel
Atanu Mukherjee, president, M.N. Dastur, saw positives for the steel sector in the push to infrastructure and affordable housing. SAIL Chairman P.K. Singh and Mr. Narendran agree.
Umersh Revankar, MD & CEO, Shriram Transport Finance Co., said that the budget continues to rightly focus on rural development and infrastructure, and the planned investment in these critical areas will not only create jobs but also spur demand and economic growth.
Hemant Kanoria, chairman and managing director Srei Infrastructure Finance Ltd., said: “The Budget speech mentions a number of steps to be taken and several policies to be announced. But until and unless the details of those are in the public domain, it would be premature to comment.”
All these developments in the infra sector will go a long way in benefitting the real estate sector, feels Shishir Baijal, chairman & managing director, Knight Frank India.
Business Editor Suresh Seshadri and Senior Deputy Editor Bharat Kumar Kalyanasundaram discuss the Union Budget 2017, the economy and the common man.
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