By Upasana Sharma:
In a smart move from his end, Pawan Kumar Bansal, the Railway minister, has announced an across-the-board hike in the railway fares. Most ministers in the past have tried to pull it off in the railway budget sessions but have faced opposition backslash. So this comes as a surprise but if dug deeper, sounds like an opportune announcement.
The media is busy covering the Delhi Rape case on goings or the tirade at the LoC between India and Pakistan or our leaders, religious and otherwise, give them enough fodder by their inane comments for them to stay busy. The point being, the fare hike hasn’t been covered with as much as it would have at any other given time. It has faced opposition backslash nonetheless. It has been called “Anti people”, “Unfortunate” and of “no rationale”. But the noises will die down as the Parliament is not in session currently. The Ruling party does its bit by calling it “Inevitable”.
Just how inevitable was it? Looking at the numbers, it pretty much was.
There has not been an increase in the basic fares except for the upper class and air conditioned travel, in the past decade. Every increase has resulted in a political casualty. To cross subsidise, there has been an increase in the freight charges, which has had a cascading effect in to the pockets of the common man as it was an increase in the transport cost. Besides, the constant increase has made using the other modes of transport a more lucrative option than the railways. There has been a need for infrastructure development for the longest time now. Basic issues like safety and cleanliness need to be addressed. Then, comes the need for modernisation of infrastructure. Due to these issues, the railways have lost a considerable share of their market to the airlines. Especially, a market consisting of upper middle class and upper class citizens. They prefer to travel by airlines because of the relatively swift, safe and clean services. The Government claims that these issues are going to be on the agenda once the fare hike takes place.
Going by the above, it seems pretty inevitable and justified. But, what about the common man? He is already carrying the burden of rising prices and this move will make another hole in his already starved for relief pocket. Were there any other means than by transferring the burden on him? Maybe. The Government should be prepared to provide subsidies to the railways like in many advanced and developed countries. The railways, being a major public utility, can’t run purely on commercial lines. But, due to fiscal deficit, it doesn’t seem like a possibility.
As eager is the common man for a relief on his pockets, equally eagerly does he seek better infrastructure. The Government has shown that it is serious in its endeavour of working towards reforms, by hiking the fares of a vote sensitive second class as well. The dire need for investment in modernisation, security and cleanliness can’t be over emphasised. The money raised by these hikes should be correctly and efficiently used to implement plans. With a hope that the reformist and pragmatic attitude doesn’t stop after these hikes, let’s call these hikes unhappily justified.
Hopefully for a better future, let’s take this burden on the pockets with a pinch of salt, shall we?