The assault against the common man continues unabated as the UPA government, in a concerted effort to to bleed the aam aadmi dry, informs of the possibility of yet another railway fare hike, not even a month after the prices were raised for all rail travel fares by a stupendous 20 percent. The Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal hinted that the second round of fare hike might be part of the railway budget proposal that is supposed to be tabled in Parliament on 26 February – clearly an attempt on his part to prevent the furore that the second fare hike within such a short time would be dealing out to the sprawling Indian masses, including the middle class, lower middle class, and especially the poorer sections of the population that constitute a staggering 800 million. Interestingly, the UPA-II government, after announcing the first round of fare hike in January this year, supposedly intended to reduce this year’s railway budget deficit by Rs 6,600 crore, has now drummed up yet another excuse to raise the tariffs further. Ostensibly, this time the government has cited the hike in diesel prices as the reason for stacking up the rail travel fare and freight charges. Although the Rs 10.80 per litre of diesel hike is estimated to cost the railways an additional Rs 3,300 crore a year, the move itself was unjustified in the first place. Together with the hike in LPG prices, along with the slashing of the number of subsidised cooking gas cylinders allocated annually, coupled with the general economic slump, the steep increase in travel cost is bound to hit the common man very hard indeed.
While the Congress-led UPA government keeps harping on its aam aadmi-friendly governance, the evidence simply points to the contrary. Public utilities such as the railways must be subsidised as a priority, and the revenue deficit ought to be brought down through other intelligent means such as commercialisation of the railway stations, improved efficiency at all levels of the operations, including bookings, checkings and on-board services. Slapping an unbelievable 20 percent hike and mounting that with possibilities of even more, indicates that the governing class has lost all connections with the ‘suffering classes’, i.e., ordinary citizens of this country who jostle, shove and push each other, not for leg space, but merely to stand, or just hold on to a rod as their bodies dangerously dangle from the train doors. The fact that the decision to hike the fares has been panned across the political spectrum, and has brought sworn enemies like the Left parties and Trinamool Congress together on the same platform, is indicative of how unpopular this move will prove in the longer run. But the decision-makers in the government would rather please the global financial bosses pulling the strings sitting at IMF or World Bank, than think for a moment about the aam aadmi.