Hike difficult but correct decision: Jaitley

'Acche din'? Their approach no different from the UPA, says Karuna

Hike difficult but correct decision: Jaitley

Amid vociferous demands from the opposition parties to roll back the steep hike in rail fares and freight rates, the Centre on Saturday defended its decision saying it was necessary to prevent the Indian Railways from incurring more losses.

A day after the Railways Ministry announced that rail passenger fares will increase by 14.2 per cent and freight rates by 6.5 per cent, the NDA government fielded three Union ministers to counter attacks from various quarters.

The Congress, Samajwadi Party, BSP and the BJP’s allies — the DMDK and the MDMK, sought a step-down in the fare revision.

However, Union ministers Arun Jaitley, Ravi Shankar Prasad and Kalraj Mishra, in separate statements, clarified that the decision to hike fares was taken by the previous UPA government and the NDA regime only implemented it.

In a Facebook post titled ‘The Truth of Railway Fare Hike’, Jaitley said, “The railway minister has taken a difficult but a correct decision...The Indian Railways for the last few years have been running at a loss. The only way that Railways can survive is when users pay for the facilities that they avail.”

He further said, “The passenger services have been subsidised by the freight traffic. In recent years, even freight fares have come under pressure.”

Explaining that the only choice the government had was to either allow the Railways to bleed and eventually walk into a debt trap or raise fares, Jaitley said, “India must decide whether it wants a world-class railway or a ramshackled one.”

UPA to blame

The minister also said that the decision to increase rates was mooted by the Railway Board on February 5 when the UPA was in power. The board had proposed a 10 per cent hike in passenger fares and 5 per cent in freight rates. The proposal was to rationalise freight rates with effect from April 1 and passenger fares from May 1, he said.

“Armed with this decision, the then Railway Minister Mallikarjun Kharge met the then prime minister Manmohan Singh on February 11. The then prime minister approved the hike and suggested that both freight and passenger fares should be implemented with effect from May 1 itself,” Jaitley averred.

The Railway Board, he said, accordingly notified this hike on May 16, when the election results were being declared.

However, Kharge developed cold feet and on the evening of May 16, after the UPA was routed in the elections, he withheld the order of the Railway Board, leaving it to the new government to announce the decision.

Also justifying the hike was Law and Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who blamed the UPA government for leaving the Indian Railways in a shambles.

“There will be a little unease to the people, but ultimately this is for the benefit of the people,” he told reporters here.

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