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Five-fold rise in fine for ticketless travel

New Delhi, Dec. 5: Free-trippers on the railways had better watch out: The government today raised five-fold the penalty for ticketless travel.

The penalties will apply to both passengers travelling ticketless or those travelling long distance on a short-distance ticket, Union minister for information and broadcasting Sushma Swaraj said after a Cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee at which the decision was taken.

Under the Railway Act’s Section 137, a ticketless passenger will be charged an ordinary-class single fare or punished with a Rs 250 charge in excess — whichever is more. Under Section 138, similar penalty charges have been fixed for passengers who travel long distance on a short-distance fare. This means the Rs 50 penalty has now gone up to Rs 250.

Ram Vilas Paswan, then railway minister, had first suggested the five-fold penalty hike for ticketless travel in the 1999 Union Budget.

A former Railway board chairman welcomed the decision. “It’s a good decision. But will those who have decided about it pay the fine' The railways has to live with an average of three rallies by some political party or the other. All the rallies involve a free trip on train. No political party or those who organise rallies pay for the tickets,” he said. “We (the Railway board) had once proposed to attach separate coaches and let the political party pay for it,” he said. “The proposal did not move an inch.”

Ticketless travel has been steadily increasing through the 1990s. From 15,000 ticketless travellers in 1990, the number soared to over 20,000 in 1995. In the last two years, the railways has caught more than 27,000 culprits through regular surprise checks and special drives.

When asked, Railway board chairman I.I.M.S. Rana was unwilling to reveal the revenue earned from penalising ticketless passengers. Ministry sources, however, said not all ticketless travellers who are caught pay up. Many end up in jail or are even “let off”.

“More than the revenue the railways will earn, the genuine passengers will get benefit for paying the fare. The hike in penalty should deter at least 20-30 per cent ticketless passengers. A higher fine would have certainly helped,” a senior Railway board member said.

The Cabinet also cleared the amendments to the Competition Bill, which seeks to set up a watchdog for corporate mergers, acquisitions and amalgamations. The legislation, now before Parliament, will replace the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission Act and create the watchdog to ensure fair industrial competition.

Swaraj, however, refused to elaborate on the amendments. “I will not be able to let out the details as it is Parliament’s prerogative when in session to first know them,” she said.

“We hope to get the Competition Bill passed this winter session. The Bill’s passage will ensure there is no negative impact on mergers and acquisitions of a company. It will also ensure that no monopoly of any kind exists.”

In another decision, the Cabinet cleared a plan to step up Sikkim’s industrialisation. The package, to be modelled on the Northeast states’ package, was prepared in 1997-98.

Swaraj said: “Of 240 central PSUs in the country, not one is in Sikkim. The four-five state PSUs in that state have invested less than Rs 35 crore.”

According to Swaraj, the Northeast package had fostered 461 units in the region. She hoped a similar package would kickstart industrialisation in Sikkim as well.

The Northeast region has received an additional investment of Rs 997 crore and as a result roughly 33,000 people have landed jobs in the past four years.

The Cabinet also gave post-facto approval to the tourism agreement signed with Kazakhstan in June when the Prime Minister visited that country.

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