The railway budget scheduled to be announced on February 26 bears little good news and none for the 70 lakh suburban train passengers in Mumbai: a third fare hike is in the offing.
Both the Central and Western Railway authorities have indicated that rail budget 2013-14 would propose increasing ticket prices in the coming fiscal. “Chances of a fare hike for the suburban rail section are high despite recent hikes. Diesel prices have gone up and we are not able to cope with the losses we are facing,” said a railway official. He said the hike would help make up for losses worth Rs 20,000 crore incurred by the railways over a year.
The first hike was implemented from January 1, with the railway board stating they had only raised surcharge, to repay the loan taken from the Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTP). The authorities iterated that they would not be getting the proceeds from the hike because it was a surcharge, which would go directly to the government. But the hike is likely help the railways rake in an additional Rs 160 crore over one year.
Surprisingly, railways announced another hike in tariff, starting from January 21, according to which suburban passengers are charged 2 paise more per km, and non-suburban passengers 4 paise per km. The authorities have now indicated at another hike in the coming budget.
‘Will resist hike’
Passengers associations are up in arms against another surge in ticket costs, and have even threatened a protest in case it comes through. Madhu Kotian, president, Rail Pravasi Sangh, said, “Though the railways claims it did not increase fare the first time and had only raised the surcharge, the burden ultimately had to be borne by passengers. We will hold a protest if the budget proposes a fare hike for suburban passengers. It is the poorer sections of society, for whom the railways is the arterial mode of transport, that will be the worst hit.”
Kotian also said that being the primary means of public transport, it is incumbent upon the railways to think of the public interest at large. Manohar Shelar, president, Upnagariya Railway Pravasi Sangh, said, “We are protesting against the earlier round of hike. The railways is cheating passengers with these hikes by rounding off tariff. The round-off should be done to the nearest rupee but here passengers are being charged more by over Rs 50 to Rs 100.”
Shelar said he would go to court to stand up for suburban passengers in case a new hike is announced. Commuters are no more pumped up than passenger associations about a possible hike. Sumant Rathi, who commutes between Kalyan and CST, said the railways is secure about inflating tariffs just because they know most commuters do not have an alternative when it comes to travel. “Because of the last two hikes, I have had to shell out more than Rs 200 on my monthly railway pass. If fares go up again, we might have to think of doing something about it,” said Rathi.
On the losing end
According to the railways, it suffered losses to the tune of Rs 1,059 crore in 2004-05, which swelled up to Rs 19,964 crore in 2010-11, with annual losses piling up by an average of 18 per cent.