New Delhi, Mar 14: Biting the bullet, Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi today proposed a stiff across-the-board hike in passenger fares to net Rs 4,000 crore extra a year in his budget but his proposals were immediately attacked by his own party Trinamool Congress that could trigger a political crisis.
Breaking an 8-year populist trend of not touching passenger fares, the Budget for 2012-13 effected a hike in suburban and non-suburban fares, ordinary second class mail and express fares, sleeper class, 1st class, all AC class travel and Rajdhani, Shatabdi, Duranto and Janshatabdi trains.
Leaving the freight rates untouched, the Minister claimed that there is no steep hike in the fares but he effected the increase through a sleight-of-hand by raising the fares according to distance.
Just after the Minister completed his 100-minute speech in the Lok Sabha, Trinamool Congress, which has already moved amendments to the President's address, stoutly opposed the hike and demanded its roll-back.
It was not clear whether the party would move cut motions to the budget. If a cut motion is adopted, it amounts to defeat and the government may have to go.
A delegation of the party MPs met Trivedi and placed the demand. TMC Parliamentary party leader Sudip Bandopadhyay said the party cannot support passenger fare hike which was anti common man.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described the budget as forward looking with the emphasis on safety and modernisation while Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee called it positive.
While a suburban second class travel up to 150 km will cost Rs 5 more, it will be an additional Rs 94 by second class for a distance of 3,062 km between New Delhi and Trivandrum. For the same distance, the increase in the AC chair-car fare will be Rs 314 and for AC 1st Class it will be Rs 933.
For travel by Rajdhani between New Delhi and Ernakulam (Kochi) - a distance of 2,950 km, the increase will be Rs 937 by AC 1st Class, Rs 466 for AC 2-Tier, Rs 306 for AC 3-Tier and Rs 217 for AC chair car.
Passenger fares have been increased by 2 paisa per km to 30 paisa per km depending on distance and class of travel.
The price of platform ticket will go up from Rs 3 to Rs 5 and fares have been rounded-off to the next nearest Rs 5. Tickets priced upto Rs 6 will become Rs 5 and above Rs 6 will become Rs 10.
Addressing a press conference, Trivedi defended the hike saying it was a “conscious decision” keeping in mind the best interest of Indian Railways and the country.
“No comment,” was his reply to questions on his party's opposition to the hike and whether he would resign. “Political parties have their own philosophy,” he said about the hike adding, “we take the decisions with full responsibility”.
Maintaining that the party or its leadership was not aware of the decision to hike the passenger fares, he said ever since he took over the ministry, all the sections he had come across including the media, committees and federations had urged for raising the fares.
He said for the last eight years there has been no increase in fares while freight rates have been hiked and he had sought to bring in a balance by his decision to raise passenger fares.
He also cited inadequate budgetary support of Rs 24,000 crore against a requirement of Rs 45,000 crore.
Passenger fares have been increased by 2 paisa per km for suburban and ordinary second class; 3 paisa per km for mail/express second class; 5 paisa per km for sleeper class; 10 paisa per km for AC Chair Car, AC 3 Tier and First Class; 15 paisa per km for AC 2 Tier and 30 paisa per km for AC 1st.
The hikes work out to be 10-15 per cent in most of the cases and 20-25 per cent in many others.
Describing Indian Railways as passing through difficult times, Trivedi said gross traffic receipt this year at Rs 1,03,917 crore were short of budget estimates by Rs 2,322 crore.
For next fiscal, he projected a 27.6 per cent higher tariff receipts at Rs 1,32,552 crore and a passenger growth of 5.4 per cent.
He pegged the annual plan outlay 2012-13 at record high of Rs 60,100 crore, of which Rs 18,050 crore would come from internal resources of the railways.
Indian railway will borrow Rs 16,050 crore in 2012-13 including Rs 15,000 crore through its financial PSU, IRFC.
It will return a loan of Rs 3,000 crore it got from the finance ministry by end of 2012-13 fiscal. Also, the Railways would make a dividend payout of Rs 6,676 crore to the central government.
Surplus with Railways have been projected to come down to Rs 1,492 crore in 2011-12 from Rs 5,258 crore projected at the beginning of the year.
Trivedi announced introduction of 75 new Express trains along with 21 new passenger services, nine DEMU services and 8 MEMU services trains.
Route of 39 trains to be extended while frequency of 23 trains will be increased.
The Minister said that Railways will hire over one lakh employees in 2012-13, up from 80,000 recruited last year.
Trivedi said that rail fare has not been increased for eight years, although input costs have risen sharply, fuel prices have increased and staff costs have also gone higher. He said that the cost of road transport has also increased, diverting the passenger traffic to rail from roads.
He said his ministry was considering a system, wherein fares would move in step with fuel cost.
He also noted that concessions worth more than Rs 800 crore a year were being given across various categories.
Trivedi also announced setting up of special purpose vehicles like Indian Railways Stations Development Corp for re-development of stations and maintaining them like airports, besides a statutory Railway Safety Authority.
Extending rail connectivity to neighbouring countries, he announced a new line from Agartala to Akura in Bangladesh.
Trivedi said two new members, one for marketing and other for safety, will be inducted into Railway Board that runs the world's largest rail network.
Besides, an expert group would be set up to consider setting up of a Railway Tariff Regulatory Authority that would advice the government on passenger and freight tariffs.
He also said that a National High Speed Rail Authority will be set-up and the pre-feasibility studies on six high speed corridors have been completed. A study on Delhi-Jaipur-Ajmer-Jodhpur will be taken up in 2012-13.
He also announced Institution of ‘Rail Khel Ratna' Award for 10 rail sports-persons every year and said that wellness facilities would be set up for the staff.
The new proposed facilities include a wagon factory at Sitapali, Odisha, rail coach factory at Palakkad, two additional new coach manufacturing units in Kutch (Gujarat) and Kolar (Karnataka); component factory at Shyamnagar (West Bengal); new coaching terminal at Naihati, the birth place of Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay.
He said that the budget targets freight loading of 1,025 MT in the next fiscal, 55 MT more than 2011-12, while passenger earnings was expected to increase to Rs 36,200 crore.
Trivedi also proposed a 50 per cent concession in AC and sleeper class fares to patients suffering from ‘Aplastic Anaemia' and ‘Sickle Cell Anaemia'.
He also extended the travel distance from 100 km to 150 km under the Izzat scheme, which was introduced by his predecessor Mamta Banerjee to enable the under-privileged citizens travel with a monthly pass of Rs 35 only.
Besides, Trivedi said, Railways has taken initiative to start manufacturing specially designed coaches for the differently-abled persons.
Railways has so far manufactured 2,100 such specially designed coaches and it aims to have one such coach in each mail/express train.
As part of its environment-friendly measures, Railways would set up windmill plants in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. Besides, it would set up 200 remote railway stations as ‘green energy stations' powered entirely by solar energy, a Green Train would be introduced and 2500 coaches would be equipped with bio toilets.