Cong, SP workers protest over rail fare hike

  • AFP, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jun 21, 2014 13:08 IST

Angry demonstrators blocked a railway track in Lucknow on Saturday in protest against a steep hike in rail fares announced by the government in its first tough step aimed at reforming a sluggish economy.

Scores of flag-waving protesters shouted slogans demanding an immediate rollback in the fares during the demonstration in Allahabad, which held up rail traffic for nearly an hour.

Samajwadi Party (SP) workers brought the Ganga Gomti express was brought to a halt by party workers while it was enroute to Lucknow.

A protesting SP worker, Sandeep Yadav said, "We had the train stopped for half an hour and we will not stop this protest until there is a change. We are totally against the rail fare hike. From the time Modi has arrived, inflation is happening."

Rail passenger fares were on Friday increased by 14.2% and freight rates by 6.5% with effect from June 25.

Railway minister Sadananda Gowda said he was "forced" to take the step in order "to meet all the necessary expenditure", hinting at the financial crunch the network is facing.

The Indian railway system, one of the world's largest, is still the main form of long-distance travel in the huge country. But years of financial neglect and populist policy of subsidising fares have hit the network hard.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's right-wing government, which came to power a month ago after overthrowing the ruling Congress, has pledged to revive the economy after it grew at just 4.7% last year -- the lowest in nearly a decade.

The hike is seen as the first dose of the "bitter medicine" that Modi recently warned was needed to revive the economy, Asia's third-biggest.

The opposition slammed the fare hike, saying it would put an "additional burden" on the shoulders of the middle-class and the poor.

"This comes at a time when the prices of onions and potatoes have skyrocketed. As an opposition party, we demand an immediate rollback of this hike," said Congress spokesman Ajay Maken.

However, in an editorial on Saturday, the Economic Times daily welcomed the "courage" shown by Modi's government in raising the fares.

It said the move was justified, given the high fuel costs and "railways' desperate need for more revenues".

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