Sir — One fails to understand the criticism that is being levelled against the government for its decision to hike train fares. The main problem with our country is that fiscal decisions are based on political strategies rather than on economic requirements. Despite the increase in prices of all commodities in the last decade, train fares were not raised even though the sixth pay commission recommended such a move. The decision not to raise fares pushed the Indian Railways to the brink of bankruptcy.
There should be a system whereby rail fares will be revised annually in tune with the general price index. Otherwise, a sudden hike after a period of about 10 years does not make any sense. Such a novel system will not only enhance revenues for the railways, but also help people adjust themselves to the concept of an annual rise in railway fares.
Pawan Kumar Bansal, the Union railways minister, said that the increase in passenger fare would help generate 66 billion rupees for the cash-strapped railways, the shoddy services of which have become a blot on its image. The refusal by successive ministers to raise passenger fares has put enormous pressure on the finances of the railways, sapping its capacity to lay new tracks, modernize services and improve safety standards.
Madhu Agrawal, Dariba, Delhi
Sir — The long awaited rail fare hike will help ease the strain on the railways’s coffers. The Union government should be grateful to Mamata Banerjee for her decision to quit the Central coalition. This enabled the United Progressive Alliance to free itself from the chains of populism. If the fare freeze was allowed to continue by Pawan Bansal, it would have adversely affected the interests of the passengers. The government tried to raise the fares, unchanged for the sleeper and ordinary second classes since 2002, in March 2011 but protests from the Trinamul Congress, a key ally then, forced Manmohan Singh to abandon the plan.
The fare increase ahead of the railway budget in February signals the government’s intent to push ahead with politically unpalatable, but vital, reforms to revive an economy that has seen its worst growth rate in this decade. A deteriorating economy has also forced the government to launch such other daring initiatives as raising diesel prices and opening up the retail sector to foreign players.
It will be in the interest of the end users if the Union government does not give in to the demand of a rollback of the hike in fares (“Bansal rules out train fare rollback”, Jan 11). Passenger amenities and safety need immediate attention. Clogged freight lines, slow delivery and overcrowded ports slacken the pace at which crucial commodities such as coal are transported, aggravating power shortages in the country.
After being controlled by various regional partners in coalition governments, command of the ministry has been returned to the Congress after 17 long years. Pawan Kumar Bansal has made a new start by taking necessary steps to revive finances.
Subhankar Mukherjee, Borehat, Burdwan
Sir — The rise in train fare — ranging from two to 10 paise per kilometre — came into effect from January 21. Most regular travellers will find the hike reasonable. But the increase in fares should be followed by improving safety and service conditions. Hygienic toilets and timely arrivals and departures are necessary to validate the price rise. Safety for women passengers should also be strengthened.
The composite index of all the inputs in the railways — including fuel and staff cost — has shot up by around 100 per cent, but the increase in freight load has been only 35-40 per cent in the past eight years. Pawan Kumar Bansal has taken the right step by maintaining his stand that there would be no rollback of fares. Justifying the increase in fares, which would help the railways earn Rs 1,200 crore within 10 weeks, Bansal said that the hike had come after a long gap.
The rise in railway fares cannot be termed unnecessary in the context of the increasing prices of essential commodities. The sorry plight of the Indian railways can be attributed to the decisions of earlier railways ministers, who indulged in populist measures.
Bidyut Kumar Chatterjee, Faridabad
Sir — The increase in rail fares has come as a ray of hope to the ailing Indian Railways. The hike was inevitable considering the present situation of the railway system that needs to be modernized at the earliest. The government must try to utilize the money earned after the hike to improve infrastructure and take measures to prevent accidents which occur frequently.
The Centre has a tendency to increase the economic burden of the common man whenever it faces policy paralysis. One hopes that this step will prove otherwise.
Janga Bahadur Sunuwar, Bagrakote, Jalpaiguri
Sir — It is true that rail fares have not been raised since 2002. But a closer analysis yields some interesting facts. Cancellation charges of tickets have increased substantially. The concept of ‘tatkal’ was introduced in 1997 to earn more money. The charge for tatkal tickets, incidentally, are far higher than those of ordinary tickets. The inclusion of service tax has made travelling by trains more costly. Now the prices of platform tickets, AC/two-tier and first class tickets, and so on, have been raised.
It would have been better if the rise in fares was announced after the presentation of the railway budget.
Sanjay Agarwal, Calcutta