Millennium Post

Pockets will pinch to revive rails

The railway fare hike was expected but not necessarily welcome. The average Indian has suffered enormous depletion of income thanks to a prolonged and unending ruling of medium to high inflation in recent years and only last year the hike in the prices of petrol, diesel, kerosene and most importantly the cooking gas made further dents into middle class pockets. Railways were the only area where prices had remained static for ten years now, though the credit for it goes to politics and not sane economic logic. The across the spectrum hike that was announced on Wednesday by Railways Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal was in effect the first in a decade. Though last year the increased fares of some AC and first sections were retained by the former Railway Minister Mukul Roy after his previous incumbent was sacked for proposing an all-round increase of fare. But the declaration of the all-round fare hike on Wednesday is not likely to be rolled back, though the Left parties and the BJP have opposed the hike in fares. The lowest hike is 2 paise per km on second class suburban railway and the highest is ten paise per km for AC first class. The existing freight charges have been left alone but it’s only a matter of time that they are increased thereby heavily impacting the prices of all commodities across the board.

The logic given out by the railway ministry, which hopes to mop up Rs 6,600 crore more annually from the fare hike , is that the railways were bleeding thanks to the no-hike policy of those serving the ministry for a decade now. A fare hike was only imminent and now it has come. While this can’t be argued on paper that a degree of rampant populism has affected the railways it is also true that the government may not have gone the fare hike way at the very first chance. Specially, when one is given to understand that the government is very happy to restructure bank debts for large corporations and are not keen to do the same for the railways. Clearly the government is more keen to let the people suffer rather than finding out ways to work out a middle way . Increasingly the government is keen to prove that safeguarding the interests of the corporate and business class is it’s mainstay. And now that in the name of security and modernisation the fare has been hiked, the govement should at least show what is it doing with the additional income.
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