The Bombay High Court Monday set aside a proposal for hiking Metro fares for the Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar Metro corridor. The court directed a new fare fixation committee to be notified by the Union government which will decide on the fares to be charged for this corridor.
A division bench of Chief Justice Manjula Chellur and Justice Mahesh Sonak passed this judgment after hearing a bunch of petitions — including one filed by MMRDA — challenging the fares fixed by the committee for the Metro corridor. One of the petitioners was Congress leader Sanjay Nirupam.
In July 2015, the Fare Fixation Committee (FFC) had recommended fares for the corridor in the Rs 10-110 band. After it submitted its report, the Mumbai Metro One Private Limited (MMOPL) announced that it would increase the fares by Rs 5 from December 1, 2015 and had proposed five slabs — Rs10, 20, 25, 35 and 45, instead of the current four of Rs10, 20, 30 and 40. This proposed fare hike was withheld after the MMRDA approached the high court the same month.
Pointing to the existing infrastructure of the local trains, BEST buses and congested roads, the court said that the Metro project was envisaged to reduce congestion. “Because of this purpose, construction was permitted on and above public roads and public properties. Public property is leased at a nominal rent of Re1 for the Metro project. The Metro project is expected to cater to the different class of commuters like those commuting in air-conditioned buses or air-conditioned taxis, virtually amounts to converting the character of a “Mass Rapid Transit System” to a “Class Rapid Transit System”. According to us, these are all relevant considerations which the FFC was bound to at least take into account in determining the Metro fares,” said the court.
The High Court Monday restrained the MMOPL from implementing the proposal while quashing the report by the earlier FFC. “In matters of price fixation, the interests of those who are most vitally affected, the consumer public cannot be ignored,” said the court. “Recommendation by FFC is nothing but an authorisation to MMOPL to implement the increased fares upto maximum, absolutely according to its discretion. In that case, the commuter public would be at the mercy of the MMOPL so far as the fares are concerned. It would be nothing but defeating the very purpose of ‘Rapid Mass Transit System’. Further, it is not certainly the objective for prescribing price fixation measures,” said Chief Justice Manjula Chellur.
The bench said that the MMOPL would continue to charge the present fares for now between the price band of Rs 10-Rs 40 and asked it to submit a statement on the “excess fee charged from commuters”. The committee, once formed, has been asked to decide the issue of the fares to be charged within three months.
According to the judgment, the FFC should be reconstituted within a month’s time in accordance with the provisions of Metro Railways (Operation& Maintenance) Act. The chief justice said the new committee must resolve the conflict over the fares “expeditiously”, or within a maximum period of three months from now.
Meanwhile, a Mumbai Metro One spokesperson said: “We are studying the detailed order and based on same, we shall take appropriate legal recourse.” The MMOPL had cited financial losses and had argued that such a hike was necessary for it to keep providing quality services to the passengers. It claimed it was suffering a loss of Rs 90 lakh per day. “I (MMOPL) am bleeding right now and am willing to bleed a little more so that I don’t increase the fare right away. I may have to close down eventually. I have undertaken this project to see that quality service is made available and will continue to do so till I can afford it,” senior counsel Janak Dwarkadas, who represented the MMOPL, had argued. He further emphasised that the MMOPL was a private body and not a welfare state.
Arguing for the MMRDA, senior counsel Aspi Chinoy had argued against the hike. “The Metro is carrying 50 per cent less than its projected ridership which is around 3 lakh per day. If they increase the fares further, it will have a further negative impact on ridership,” Chinoy had argued.