With Transport Minister Kailash Gahlot helming the board of the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC), implementing the Delhi government’s proposal to let women travel for free in buses is likely to be a smooth affair. However, it remains to be seen if the government can get the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) on board and implement the same on the Metro network.
DMRC, a special purpose vehicle, is a joint venture between the Delhi government and the Centre.
Announcing the proposal Monday, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal emphasised that the DMRC was “on board” as well. But the corporation did not react to queries on the issue through the day. The Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs also did not offer any comments.
According to the Delhi Metro Railway (Operation and Maintenance) Act, 2002, commuting fares are to be decided by a fare fixation committee. “The recommendations made by the fare fixation committee shall be binding on the Metro railway administration,” the Act states.
The prevailing fares in the Metro were fixed by the fourth fare fixation committee, which had submitted its report in 2016. Fares were raised in two phases in 2017, which drew stiff resistance from the AAP government.
But the Delhi government claimed that since the execution of the latest proposal will not lead to any changes in the fare structure, the O&M Act cannot be invoked. “This will in no way affect the balance sheet of the DMRC as the Delhi government will compensate the corporation for whatever losses they bear,” Jasmine Shah, vice-chairman of the Dialogue and Development Commission of Delhi, said.
Shah told The Indian Express that the government has also indicated it will incur the possible implementation costs on the DMRC’s part owing to any technological intervention, such as installation of special entry gates. “They will have to come up with a plan and flag the challenges. And they were obviously taken on board, considering it is such a major decision,” Shah said.
Earlier, DMRC MD Mangu Singh had told The Indian Express that the corporation was mulling introducing biometric authentication to offer special rebates to senior citizens and students. However, the plan has not been implemented so far.
Government officials also explained that even if the Metro agrees to implement the move, it will have to devise a mechanism to register the number of women who avail free rides and those who don’t. “It cannot be the case that those who avail free rides will just walk into the system,” the official said, indicating that a card will have to be issued even to avail free rides.
Shah also said authorities were examining the case of women who will use the Metro system only within NCR cities such as Gurgaon, Noida, or Faridabad.
“If both point A and point B fall within a town outside the jurisdiction of the Delhi government, we are not sure if they will also be able to avail free commute,” he said. However, the scheme will not be restricted to women who are Delhi residents only, he said.
Depleting bus fleet
The AAP government’s announcement has shifted the spotlight on Delhi’s depleting bus fleet, with hundreds of old buses set to go off roads in the next two years. CM Arvind Kejriwal Monday said around 25-30 new buses will augment the fleet by the end of this month, and around 3,000 buses will hit the streets within a year. Currently, there are around 5,500 buses in Delhi.
But these buses will augment the fleet of orange cluster buses, operated by private players. The revenue collected goes to the government, which in turn subsidises the viability gap or operational losses. DTC, which has the world’s largest CNG bus fleet, is staring at a crisis as many of its buses have crossed the average age of 6.2 years they are known to serve, as per the corporation’s data. The last fare hike was in 2009. Ridership figures have also sharply plunged to around 31 lakh daily, from around 42 lakh seen a decade ago. ENS