In the face of increasing criticism over the hike in autorickshaw and taxi fares, the Maharashtra government on Thursday announced setting up a new three-member committee to lay down guidelines to revise these fares.
State transport minister Diwakar Raote said the committee, headed by a former high court judge, an economic expert and a former transport secretary, will submit a report in six months. This report is expected to replace the one-member Hakim committee report of 2012.
The Hakim panel report, which was accepted by the previous government in 2012, has so far dictated the fare revision of autos and taxis. The report has been challenged in the Bombay high court by the Mumbai Grahak Panchayat.
The government’s decision is expected to bring down the cost of commuting by autorickshaws and taxis in Mumbai.
"Since the previous government accepted the Hakim committee report in 2012, there has been a 50% increase in fares of autos and taxis. This is unwarranted. The committee report has made way for a tariff hike every year. There are several lacunae in the committee’s formula," said Raote.
The minister, however, has not stayed the latest fare hike of Re1 for both autos and taxis announced by the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Transport Authority (MMRTA), as recommended by the Hakim panel. This fare revision is to be implemented from June 1.
"This fare revision cannot be stayed in the ambit of law, but it is temporary. It will be implemented only after meters are calibrated and until the new committee submits its report. I believe that if most autorickshaws and taxis are run on CNG and the cost of gas is less than petrol and diesel, these benefits should go to the commuters," Raote said.
He said certain parameters used to decide the formula for a fare hike seemed problematic, taking into consideration the cost of vehicles and interest rate for the loans. “The committee has considered an interest rate of 16%, when in reality it is much less — around 13.5% at the most. The cost of autorickshaws has been considered to be Rs 3 lakh, when in reality you can buy one for Rs 1.40 lakh," he said. Similarly, the insurance cover cost for the vehicles, consumer price index and basic distance guidelines all seemed to favour a hike, he said.
The government’s decision has also been spurred by the high court’s observation that the one person committee might not have been “a sufficient safeguard to ensure the process of rate fixing is scientific".
Senior officials in the government said so far, the scope and terms of reference for the new committee had not been thrashed out and formally rejecting the Hakim committee report would require a Cabinet decision. The state government will present this decision before the high court at the next hearing of the petition.