New Delhi, Oct. 11: The ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) today geared up for an agitation against a hike in Delhi Metro fares, almost double in some cases, amid a public backlash against the steep increase.
Minister and state AAP convenor Gopal Rai joined a protest called by party student wing Chhatra Yuva Sangharsh Samiti today, a day after the decision, at the Vishwavidyalaya station close to Delhi University.
The Assembly, where the AAP has an overwhelming majority, passed resolutions to condemn the hike and set up a panel to examine its rationale in a special session.
The AAP has drawn flak for claiming ignorance of the recommendations of the Fare Fixation Committee (FFC) that have led to the hikes, first in May and then on Tuesday, despite having members on the Delhi Metro Railway Corporation's (DMRC) board.
Union housing and urban affairs minister Hardeep Puri, whose ministry controls the DMRC, has ruled out a rollback and asked the AAP government to pay Rs 3,000 crore a year if it wants another fare panel.
"The question is who increased the fares so drastically at a time the economy is sinking. The answer is the BJP-led central government. Delhi's chief secretary wrote to them (the Centre) opposing this hike in June and we were not kept informed about the meetings. But it is immaterial who said what first. The issue is the hike that will further reduce ridership and benefit radio taxi operators," state minister Rai said. After the hike in May, ticket sales fell almost 10 per cent.
Today's AAP protest drew many students not active in politics. "We are preparing for civil service (exams) at coaching centres in Mukherjee Nagar (near Delhi University) and I live on rent in Dwarka (on the western periphery)," said Ashu Bidhuri. "A trip cost that me Rs 25 before May costs me Rs 50 now. That's almost an additional Rs 1,500 per month. It is a sum my father, who earns Rs 15,000 a month, can't give me. I am forced to take the bus, which takes an hour longer."
Bidhuri, like most civil service aspirants, had kept away from protests until today. "It (the hike) was all over Facebook and I had to come. I don't see any logic in this hike. If there are fewer commuters, why will anyone advertise in the Metro."
The AAP plans to gherao Nirman Bhavan, where Puri's office is located, on Friday.
Today, Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari met Puri but let alone a rollback, the state unit did not get an assurance even for its limited demand of restoring the 15 fare slabs that have been cut to six, making shorter rides less feasible.
A group called Delhi Metro Commuters Association has called for gheraos of BJP legislators. Yesterday, the Congress-affiliated National Students Union of India had stopped some trains. The Congress has called a week-long agitation called Stop Politics, Save Metro.