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    Mamata all set to present 'populist' Rail Budget

    New Delhi: As Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee readies to present the Rail Budget 2011-12 on Friday, expectations are high that the budget could be high on populism and low on reforms, as the minister has set her eyes on the Writers' Building in Kolkata.

    The cash-trapped Railways is unlikely to carry out any major changes in passenger fares in the Budget for the eighth year in succession, even as more than 100 new trains could be announced, including a dozen non-stop Durontos.

    Speculations are rife that the budget may see some marginal increase in upper class AC fare with sleeper class fare remaining untouched.

    The Railway Minister, who flagged off over 30 new trains in West Bengal in the last six months alone, would wait till the state assembly elections get over to increase fares in June or July 2011.

    Without revealing any budget details, Mamata, after giving finishing touches to the Rail Budget, said, "It will be people-friendly, passenger-friendly and country-friendly budget".

    Keeping the passengers' complaints in mind, the budget is likely to propose a slew of passenger-friendly measures like setting up of more Janahaar outlets at stations to provide quality food at reasonable rates.

    The budget could also find mention of mega base kitchens in the metros preparing 50,000 to 1 lakh meals per day for train passengers. This would be managed by railway itself as per the new catering policy, sources said.

    The budget could also announce launching off a new SMS-based service to lodge complaints against rail service by passengers.

    In order to provide clean linens to passengers, Railways are likley to announce setting up of mechanised laundry service at zonal levels.

    The Rail Budget is likley to announce introduction of about 100 new trains including a dozen super fast Durontos.

    The Budget comes at a time when the Railways are facing financial crunch with its operating ratio inching close to 100 level mark. "So there will be a few measures for generation of more internal resources," sources said.

    Mamata, facing Assembly elections in West Bengal in two months, could also announce a slew of projects for her state, including a rail link connecting the busy Howrah and Sealdah stations running through the densely populated central districts of Kolkata.

    In order to promote cultural activities, Railways are also planning to construct auditorium in Kharagpur, Jalpaiguri and Jabalpur.

    Catering to the student community, she could also announce running of student special trains keeping in mind the travel requirement during examinations and trains with only bookings under Tatkal scheme.

    (With additional information from PTI)