In a speech that lasted less than 15 minutes,new Railway Minister Mukul Roy today rolled back not just a large chunk of the hike in train fares,but also wiped out nearly every imprint of his predecessor Dinesh Trivedis ideas from the rail budget.
Fares of suburban class,sleeper,AC-3 and AC chair car,raised by Trivedi,now go back to the levels that they have been for a decade a time during which the cost of nearly everything else has gone up. Roy said Trivedis hikes were a burden on the common man already burdened by rising prices of essential goods.
Only AC-1 and AC-2 fares will be costlier by 15 paise and 30 paise per kilometre respectively,working out to between 10 per cent and 20 per cent costlier travel,depending on the length of the journey.
Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjees effort to distance herself from Trivedis budget included dropping several other brave new ideas proposed by the former minister. The proposals to set up an independent railway tariff regulator,expand the Railway Board to include a member (PPP and marketing) and a member (safety),and overhaul railway catering with foreign players will now not see the light of day. Roy wants to improve catering with Indian service providers.
Roy also withdrew Trivedis idea of rounding off fares to the nearest five rupees,by which a fare of Rs 12 would have become Rs 10 but Rs 13 would have become Rs 15. Even a paisa more than Rs 12 would have taken the fare straightaway to Rs 15,which is a significant jump. It stands cancelled, Roy told The Indian Express.
The new minister will also not require the services of the two committees on modernisation and safety headed by Sam Pitroda and Anil Kakodkar respectively set up by Trivedi. Trinamool leaders said the purpose of the panels had been served by the submission of their reports.
After Thursdays wave of rollbacks,Trivedis only immediate contributions remain the increase in the price of platform tickets from Rs 3 to Rs 5,and extension of the scope of Mamata Banerjees Izzat scheme (subsidised travel for poor suburban commuters) from 100 km to 150 km.
Sitting at home watching the proceedings on TV,Trivedi said the rollback was unfortunate. If I get a chance,I would present the same rail budget again. Only time will tell who is right and who is wrong, he said.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh,who had hailed the rail budget as forward looking,remained absent from both houses. The new minister has promised that it (fare rollback) will not have any effect on the budgetary estimates. He has also promised to make up for the loss through advertisements and disposal of commercial utilisation of land, Singh later told reporters.
The Railways stand to lose an expected earning of Rs 2,000 crore to Rs 3,000 crore as a result of the rollback. We will recover that amount through other,non-conventional means, Roy said. Fare hike was just one of the possible ways of getting that money.
Roy is understood to have instructed the Railway Board to work out a revenue model that relies on commercial utilisation of railway properties,and highlighting the Railways as a lucrative advertising medium.
After the reply speech,Roy walked up to leaders from the SP,BSP,BJP,BJD and JD (U). Every party supported the rollback,although the customary thumping of desks was missing when the announcements were made.
CPMs Sitaram Yechury said,Why the hike was announced earlier… The TMC is making a mockery of the peoples miseries for their own internal political fights.