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Rail Fare Hike: BETRAYAL OF PEOPLES’ TRUST, By Chanchal Chauhan, 23 June, 2014 Print E-mail

Events & Issues

New Delhi, 23 June 2014

Rail Fare Hike


By Chanchal Chauhan


When I was at a school, my teacher told me India’s first Prime Minister Nehru, used to read daily Robert Frost’s poem before going to sleep, a stanza of which he kept under his pillow. “The woods are lovely, dark and deep; But I have promises to keep; And miles to go before I sleep; And miles to go before I sleep.


But our present Prime Minster Modi who has all along been critical of Nehru and his successors should have learnt one thing from him: Promises must be kept and not betrayed so soon. As people were waiting for ‘better days’ as promised by him at every election rally.


Alas, he is treading the same path like his predecessors by a steep hike in rail fares, prior to the Budget.  Wherein, fares have been raised by 14.2%, and freight 6.5%, which is going to hit the public hard as it would lead to all-round price increase in commodities and services.


Besides, the periodic hike in diesel, petrol and gas prices might also be the NDA’s hidden agenda which may unfold soon, notwithstanding, it was not part of the BJP’s election manifesto. Worse, more ‘hard decisions’ are on the anvil which will result in bitter, not ‘better days’ for the aam aadmi. Trouble in Iraq or not the Government will punch us any way!


One wonders how erstwhile Rail Minister Lalu Yadav during 2004-09 made Railways from loss making to a profitable undertaking,  making a cumulative profit of Rs. 25,000 crores (US $5.2 b). Perhaps, Modi who had hired the best brains during his election campaigning has fired them now. Why is he not using those brains to do Lalu’s ‘turnaround’? Considering that the railways are one of the world’s largest State-owned enterprises with around 1.4 million employees, over 63,000 km of network that operates 14,000 trains every day.


Recall, in one of his TV interviews, Lalu had disclosed his secret. Apart from steps to increase income by fast movement of goods and introducing modern goods’ wagons, one significant measure he initiated was to stop containers from being used as godowns by rich traders, corporate houses and some public undertakings.


Whereby, instead of emptying their goods from the containers, they stood in the Railway yard with the users paying demurrage charges, which were less than the cost of building a godown or renting one as private storage costs were higher than demurrage levied by the Railways. This practice always not only led to shortage of wagons but also blocked income from wagons.


This is not all. Lalu got the railway personnel to auction the wares, in case the trader did not vacate the wagon by a set date. This threat worked wherein availability and mobility of wagons increased manifold along-with the income. Underscored by No 8 Report 2010-11 which averred the railways depends on freight traffic for bulk of its revenues as there are frequent changes of charges based on freight marketing policies and initiatives launched from time to time’.


Pertinently, even as the BJP and Congress tom-tommed that they subsidised commuters, it was the obverse. The public was forced to pay for profits made by rich traders and corporates. Lalu discontinued this by getting the railways to recover full demurrage charges, failing which goods would be auctioned, earning profits. Consequently, there was no need to hike passenger fares as was the practise followed by Ministers.  


Undeniably, in this scenario if Rail Minister Gowda adheres to Lalu’s formula there is no ground for the present hike in rail fares. Especially against the backdrop of ex-UPA Rail Minister Mallikarjun Kharge asserting, “container traffic has witnessed rapid growth in the last few years”, during his Budget speech in February to Parliament.


Adding, “I would like to assure the House that continuing the happy trend of 2012-13, and in a marked improvement from the two earlier years, Railways will end the current year with surplus, and fund balances would increase from Rs 2,391 crore at the beginning of current fiscal to Rs 8,018 crore at the end of March, 2014.


This is primarily due to strict fiscal discipline enforced by the Railways. One wonders what has prompted Modi’s NDA Government within less than two months of taking charge to hike prices, hitting the common man hard.


One plausible reason might be that as the BJP has a broad-base among the trading community and is funded by corporate houses it might be unable to follow in Lalu’s footsteps and revamp the Railways income. It is not without reason that traders and industrialist allegedly portray Lalu as a ‘joker’ because of his rural humour.


In fact, they do so, also for the reason Lalu hurt them during his tenure as Railway Minister since he did not allow them to use public property i.e. goods wagons, containers and rakes as their own private property. Why can not the BJP-led Government take a ‘hard decision’ to hit traders?  Is it because it is easier to hit the aam aadmi than the rich?  Are the Saffronites committed to serving the corporates and business interests?


Notably, tomorrow, the same elements might force the Government to sell the Railways print-making to industrialists as it is reportedly running in a loss. Given that the erstwhile UPA Government had succumbed to this pressure by advocating the public-private joint ownership concept and obliged the private sector to exploit the railways.


Additionally, there are indications that Modi would permit entry of FDI in railways also was highlighted by the UPA Government. Finance Minister Jaitley has already revealed that profit-making public enterprises should be sold to the private houses, as espoused by NDA I ex-Minister Arun Shourie.


Leading to a query: Is the policy of privatisation being forced by the international finance capital? Despite, it burning a big hole in the common man’s pocket. Clearly, the betrayal has begun. ----- INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)



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