New Delhi: With the hike in rail fares coming into effect from Monday, the big question is whether the hike will ensure much needed modernisation of the country’s lifeline and make train travel safer for the millions of people for whom air travel is not an option.
Successive rail ministers had rued over lack of finances for not being able to meet the modernisation targets before Congress’ Pawan Kumar Bansal bit the bullet and hike rail fares - first in over a decade.
The fare hike is expected to mop up an additional Rs 6,600 crore annually for the government. This is the first increase in rail fares in a decade's time as the last was during Nitish Kumar's tenure as railway minister.
The proposals will rake in additional Rs 1200 crore between January 21 and March 31 this year, Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal had said while announcing the decision and did not rule out a hike in the freight tariff. He, however, did not rule out a hike in the freight tariff.
Importantly, after the hike in diesel prices, the railways will only net an additional Rs 2700 cr annually.
Given the extreme reluctance in the government towards hiking rail fares, it seems highly unlikely that that the government will increase fares again before 2014 elections.
As the need for modernisation and technological upgrade cannot be over-emphasised and given a report by the Expert Group for the modernisation of Indian Railways, in which it said that the railways requires Rs 560,000 crore over the next five years, it remains to be seen how the railways manages to generate revenue for the same.
With the hike, fares of Ordinary Second Class (suburban) trains will go up by 2 paise per km while for non-suburban travel it will be 3 paise.
Travel by Second Class Mail and Express trains will be costlier by 4 paise per km, while it will be 6 paise in Sleeper Class.
Travellers by AC Chair Car and AC Three Tier will have to shell out 10 paise more per km, First Class by 3 paise, AC Two Tier by 6 paise and AC First Class by 10 paise.
The fares for First Class, AC Two Tier and AC First/ Executive Class were already raised by 10 paise per km, 15 and 30 paise respectively in the current year's budget.
Therefore, as a result of the proposed hike, ordinary Second Class suburban fares for a distance of 35 km will go up by Rs 2 from Rs 8 to Rs 10, while in the non-suburban trains it will go up by Rs 5 for an average distance of 135 km.
In Sleeper Class, the increase would mean a hike of Rs 50 for a distance of 770 km from Rs 270 to Rs 320. In the case of AC Chair Car, for a distance of 387 km, the increase would be Rs 40 from Rs 345 to Rs 385.
In the case of AC Three Tier, for a distance of 717 km, the fare will go up from Rs 724 to Rs 800, an increase of Rs 76.
Similarly, in the case of AC Two Tier, the increase would mean a hike of Rs 48 for a distance of 721 km, while for AC First Class it will be Rs 56 for a distance of 547 km.
Modernisation is the mantra of the Railways but surely basic issues of safety in the current system need to be addressed immediately.