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Partial train fare rollback on table

- ‘Softener’ only for suburban networks

New Delhi, June 23: The Centre is likely to “soften” the steep escalation in rail fares only in certain metros for suburban networks that are part of the Indian Railways, it is understood. The raise in fares for long-distance travel and freight services is likely to remain unchanged.

Instead of a one-time hike spanning a scale of 60-150 per cent for commuters of Mumbai’s suburban railway, the Centre is likely to phase in the increase so that the blow to the common man is not as severe as it is now.

Political imperatives have apparently forced a rethink.

With the Maharashtra elections looming on the horizon, BJP ally Shiv Sena has come down hard on the Centre, despite being a constituent.

An editorial by Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray in party mouthpiece Saamna said: “The railway minister has run a train on the public by increasing fares. Had this happened in the Congress regime, they (the BJP) would have said the Congress should be shot down by a cannon.”

He went on to say that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had spoken of “good days to come” (“achhe din aane wale hain”) and declared that bringing down prices was his first priority. “But now the common man is being made to bear the brunt,” Uddhav claimed.

Not to be outdone, the Maharashtra BJP chipped in.

Vinod Tawde, the Opposition leader in the legislative council, will call on railway minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda in Delhi on Tuesday and urge him to “reconsider” the hike. But, unlike the Sena that has taken a blanket position, BJP’s Tawde said he saw the matter in a “larger perspective” and understood the Centre’s compulsions.

“We know how difficult it is to run the railway system. The Modi government is up against hardships and had to take a hard decision. But at the same time we have to convey the people’s sentiments to the Centre,” Tawde told The Telegraph.

Asked if such decisions could negatively impact the BJP-Sena prospects in the Maharashtra elections due this September, he said: “Such things are beyond elections. If we were just thinking of elections, we would have implored the Centre to put off the increase until after September-October.”

In Mumbai, the cost of a second-class monthly suburban rail pass has shot up from Rs 85 to Rs 150 and a first-class monthly pass from Rs 795 to Rs 1,930.

In the last Lok Sabha polls, the BJP-Sena picked up all the seats in Mumbai and its suburbs and blocked the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena from poaching their votes.

The alliance hopes to replicate the feat in the Assembly election. “But unpopular moves such as this one might make our voters disillusioned,” a Sena source said.

MNS leader Raj Thackeray has not said anything so far on the fare rise. But BJP and Sena sources fear that the moment he hits the streets and whips up a campaign, they would be put still more on the defensive.