Suburban commuters in Mumbai heaved a sigh of relief as Union railway minister Suresh Prabhu on Thursday announced that there will be no fare hike.
Sources said the move was a politically calculated one as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led-government did not want to upset the around 1.40 crore passengers in metro cities that use suburban networks for their daily commute.
Mumbai has the highest number of passengers, around 78.5 lakh, of which 70% have monthly passes, which are highly subsidised.
At present, the railways charges only for 15 single journeys for a monthly pass, which the administration had proposed to increase to 22.
However, any change in the formulae to calculate the monthly pass fare would have affected suburban users across the country. Fearing a backlash similar to last year’s, the proposal was withhold.
“The railways was estimated to earn an additional Rs300 crore by making the change, but it would have meant public outrage and criticism for the government. Therefor the decision not to change fares was taken,” said a railway official, requesting anonymity.
Suburban passengers welcomed the budget, which also had various infrastructure projects for the city and state. Also, it increased the passenger amenity funds with special allocation for installing escalators and lifts at stations.
“The budget is well balanced and looks at the future. The city is in desperate need of major key infrastructure projects, without which increasing of services is not possible. Simultaneously, funds for installing escalators, lift, improved ticketing system will ease commuting to some extent,” said Aniket Ghamandi, a member of the Railway Suburban Passenger Federation.
However, Prabhu’s maiden budget received its share of brickbats as well. A few commuters said most of the projects announced had been pending for several years.
“The infrastructure projects announced this year won’t result in any immediate relief for passengers. They will help commuters only after 10 years. So, what exactly is the railways giving to the people to ease their travel or decongest the existing network at present?” said Anil Galgali, transport activist.