Indian Railway fare hike: Is partial rollback in rail fares politically motivated?

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Partial rollback to benefit Mumbaikars?
In a massive relief for lakhs of Mumbai's suburban railway commuters, the Modi Government on Tuesday announced a partial rollback in the rail fare hike. Following the widespread anger, the Government has now announced that the increase in rail fares will not apply to suburban passengers holding second class tickets up to a distance of 80 km. Also, the first-class daily tickets and first and second-class season tickets will now be increased by a flat 14.2%.

In a revised order, the Railways Ministry said the fare hike in the unreserved segment shall come into force from June 28 as against June 25 when the increase will be implemented otherwise. The unprecedented hike ranging between 100% and 187%, announced on June 20, had generated widespread anger among 75 lakh Mumbaikars who commute by local trains along with objections coming out from political parties.

Along with its own MPs, Shiv Sena, oldest ally of the party had strongly criticised Central Government's move to hike the rail fares. An editorial in Sena's mouthpiece Saamana said that the hike is a burden on Mumbaikars and because of this move the local train passengers will have to suffer.

NDA will surely try to reap public anger against the Congress Government

At a time when this announcement drew flak from almost all quarters, it is worthy to note here that by introducing hike in fare, Modi Government only attempted to bring cash-strapped world's third largest rail network on track. This pre-budget decision was to give the Indian Railways an additional revenue of Rs 8000 crore annually.

Indian Railways, despite being one of world's largest carriers, is facing major financial crunch and needs immediate attention. The proposed hike in fares was an attempt to revamp the cash-strapped Indian Railways, which is reportedly facing a loss of nearly Rs 900 crore per month.

Prime Minister Modi had already hinted of tough decisions to bring back the economy back on the track. He had clearly indicated that the new dispensation is ready to face criticism as long as it comes to the interest of the people in the long run. Now, the question here arises, 'What prompt the pro-growth Government to roll back the fares which were an attempt to make it world class?'

Political motive?

The Government's move to rollback the fares is being seen as politically motivated. With Maharashtra all set to go to the Assembly polls in October, the BJP could neither afford to irk its allies nor the public whom Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during the Lok Sabha poll, promised 'Acche Din' (better days). It was only these 'acche din' promises which led the NDA to win a massive 42 seats out of 48 in the State and decimated the Congress, NCP to two and four seats respectively.

Moreover, the fact that NDA has not tasted power in the State in the last 15 years makes the upcoming Assembly poll even more crucial for the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance. Congress has been a ruling pary in Maharashtra since 1999 winning three consecutive Assembly elections in the State but this period saw a sharp decline in governance.

The entire period of one and half decade has been marked by rampant corruption, arrogant, insensitive and unresponsive attitude of the State administration, deteriorating Law & Order and large number of farmers committing suicide. Instead of taking reformative measures, Congress's Central leadership only resorted to the cosmetic changes like changing the face of Chief Minister and rehabilitating the previous ones in the Central power matrix.

The BJP-led NDA will surely try to reap public anger against the Congress Government in the State.

After a remarkable performance in the Lok Sabha polls, the BJP-Shiv Sena is also confident of good show in the upcoming State polls but playing with an emotive issue like railways' fare hike could hamper its performance in the Assembly polls.

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