The Indian Railways has collected thousands of crores of rupees from passengers by levying a wide range of taxes in the name of supplementary charges and security surcharge — without parliamentary approval and after the passage of the Rail Budget.
This was done through the Railways’ ‘emergency circulars’, indirectly passing the financial burden on commut-ers by using it as a mechanism to levy various surcharges including those under the ‘tatkal scheme’. The Railways has the discretionary power to issue such emergency circulars.
While 106 such circulars were issued in 2006, the number was 93 in 2007. In 2003 and 2004, the number was 30 and 40, respectively.
K. Kathirmathiyon, a consumer activist who got the information under RTI Act, brought it to the notice of the Supreme Court last year through a PIL. He said the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Railways had in its 20th and 26th reports slammed the passing of additional burden on commuters after the rail budget, without the approval of Parliament. He said that after he wrote to PM Manmohan Singh in December 2007 opposing the levy of hidden and tatkal charges, the Prime Minister’s Office reportedly rebuked the Railway Ministry in February 2008 for imposing the safety and development surcharges without due parliamentary approval.
Terming it “total abuse of discretionary power” vested in the Railways for issuing emergency circulars, he alleged the process lacked transparency and accountability and was a “deliberate fraud on the commuter”. He sought quashing of the levy of all charges imposed through administrative orders without parliamentary approval. But the court said it would look into the matter only if Parliament did not consider it.