‘We will increase fares whenever necessary’
Union Railways Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal speaks on fare hike, quality of services of the Railways and a number of other issues concerning the Indian Railways during Teekhi Baat on IBN7. Excerpts:
Q. Congratulations on increasing railway fares in the New Year which nobody did in the past 15 years.
A. This was inevitable
Q. I will think this as a New Year gift.
A. I will think the same if we can improve the services. Today, the people are affected even when the price of any commodity is increased. But the condition was such that it was necessary to have a nominal increase in prices.
Q. Otherwise, the Railways would have gone bankrupt?
A. Fare hike is to keep it going; not that it will go bankrupt. But we had to avert a situation where any further progress of the Railways would have been hindered.
Q. But an ‘aam aadmi’ government increasing the railway fares of ‘aam aadmi’, that too in the first month of the year. It seems there is some problem with your agenda.
A. No, not at all.
Q. Pawan Kumar Bansal was given the portfolio for increasing the fares.
A. If that were the case, we would have increased the prices on the first day (when I took charge). But it took me two-and-a-half months to understand the whole Railway Ministry. It was a new department; I had to oversee each and every thing.
Q. Increasing fares is the easiest way to generate revenue. The slogan of the Congress party is that it stands by the ‘aam aadmi’. From 1995 till now, all Railway Ministers were not Congressmen. They too spoke about the ‘aam aadmi’. But despite speaking for the ‘aam aadmi’ you attack them with increase in fares by 20 per cent.
A. It is not 20 per cent. The hike is two paise, three paise, four paise, per kilometre. People have told me that it takes Rs 20 to travel 100 km in train, earlier it used to take Rs 17 for travelling the same distance. And if the same person takes a rickshaw or scooter rickshaw to go to his residence from the railway station, it will take Rs 100.
Q. How much money will you be able to collect with the hike in railway fares?
A. With the announcement we made recently, in the next two- and-a-half months we will earn an additional Rs 1,200 cr.
Q. Rs 1,200 cr is chicken feed for railway works, you collect so much revenue.
A. Not much revenue is generated; on passenger fare every year, including this year, loss incurred will be Rs 25,000 cr. We will cross-subsidise this amount with freight prices.
Q. This government can spend Rs 18,000-20,000 cr on the Aadhar card, and you did not have Rs 1,800 cr to spare for the Railways.
A. Ask poor people whether this hike in prices has pinched them. Only two paise per km has been increased, hence how much more they have to pay for travelling 500 km, Rs 10.
Q. Shouldn’t transport be economical in the country?
A. Public transport should be affordable for people.
Q. If you sell half- an- acre of land near the Delhi railway station, you will generate Rs 1,800 cr.
A. Such a thing has been done for one station. We will have to think about all these things.
Q. You mean, talking rationally, railway fares should be inflation-linked?
A. To some extent that should happen, to some extent there is incremental growth in traffic. Hence the increase in fares can be kept at a minimum.
Q. Which means you will keep on reviewing, and will increase fares according to necessity.
A. Which means it should not be totally linked to inflation, but to some extent. Only then, the Railways can run in the future. Like you mentioned that there is no cleanliness in the Railways.
Q. Till you are the Railways Minister, you will keep on increasing fares whenever necessary.
A. Now, there is not much time, it has happened just one time.
Q. But why did you increase fares just before the Budget?
A. If we had increased fares in Budget, it would have been effective from April 1. Now the new fares will be effective January 21; we will get two months and 10 days till March 31. In this time we will earn an additional Rs 1,200 cr. Next year we will earn Rs 66,000 cr.
Q. Which means there would be no fare increase in this Budget
A. No fare increase in this Budget.