by G Bhave, Kamgar Ekta Committee
The real motive of the government is to remove all subsidy and concessions on passenger fares to prepare for privatisation of passenger services. By increasing the passenger fares in the name of running “special trains”, the government wants to make it easy for private players to run rail passenger services.
The Railway ministry has decided to treat the Covid pandemic as an opportunity. But opportunity for what? If we think that by such actions the Railway Ministry is just trying to earn more money for the exchequer, we would be wrong. The Railway Ministry’s purpose behind such action is much more dubious.
We will understand the real motive if we keep in mind these facts:
- The Railway Ministry is keen on privatising more than 150 railway passenger routes but
- The response from the private sector to this offer was very poor, with hardly 20 or so of the routes offered evincing some interest of the private sector
Why was the response so poor? Because the private sector wants to earn maximum profit, which it cannot unless passenger fares are drastically increased and concessions or subsidies given to various classes of passengers are eliminated. By increasing the passenger fares, the Railway Ministry thus wants to make it easy for private players.
Immediately after the surgical strike on the working people of India by announcing a nation-wide lockdown the Indian Railways stopped all train services from 25th March 2020. However, as the anger over the plight of crores of migrant workers started building up it was forced to start its services partially from May 2020 onwards. Due to the heroic efforts by the employees of the Indian Railways, lakhs of migrant workers could reach closer to their destinations.
Gradually more and more trains were restarted but with steeply enhanced fares! When people started questioning this angrily, in February this year the Railway Ministry responded by saying that “fares have been increased deliberately to dissuade people from travelling so as to reduce the Covid spreading risk!”.
Since August this year various government functionaries are declaring that the Covid pandemic is now under control. So, have the increased railway fares been brought back to original fare? No, far from it! Many earlier trains are now running with a train number which is with a “0” added to the original train number but with much steeper fares which are 15 to 50 % higher than earlier! For example, for the Magadh Express which goes from Kolkata to Delhi via Patna, an additional 175/- to 400/- rupees is being charged just by classifying it as “special train”.
Out of 237 passenger trains which used to operate in the East-Central Railway, 42 have been reclassified as Mail or Express and higher fares are being charged. Raksaul-Howra Mithila Express, Kathgodam-Howra Bagh Express, Gorakhpur-Howra Poorvanchal Express, Chapara-Tata Express trains have been running as Festival Express trains with increased fare. There are many such examples all over India.
When questioned the railway authorities declared that now these trains are “special trains” and hence have higher fares. But ask the railway employees and the passengers who travel regularly on these trains and they will tell you that “nothing has changed, the same bogies, the same timing, same stops, but much higher fares”.
Similarly, the ticketing slabs have been changed as a result of which passengers are forced to shell out much more than the past. For many trains, the railway fare is same for any stations up to 300 km. Many passenger trains which used to charge low fares have been cancelled and replaced by other trains with much higher fares.
Concessions which were earlier available for senior citizens and children have also been reportedly withdrawn. For example, earlier women passengers older than 58 years used to get concession to the extent of 50% and male passengers older than 60 years used to get concession of 40%.
The real motive of the government is to remove all subsidy and concessions on passenger fares to prepare for privatisation of passenger services. It is important that we expose this real motive of the government in front of the public at large.