Modi to take final call on railway fare hike

Will create a robust safety fund, says Sadananda Gowda

Modi to take final call on railway fare hike

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will take a final call on whether passenger and freight charges should be hiked after a meeting with Railway Minister Sadananda Gowda.

However, the railways has decided to create a dedicated safety fund, a proposal the Finance Ministry has agreed to in principle.  Gowda and his junior minister Manoj Sinha met Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to discuss the upcoming Railway Budget. “We have not taken any decision on fare hike. A decision will be taken only after meeting the prime minister. I will meet him shortly on this issue,” Gowda said on Monday. 

The ministry had announced a 5 per cent hike in freight charges and 10 per cent in passenger fares from May 20. But outgoing minister Mallikarjun Kharge intervened and the ministry withdrew the proposal. Railway officials have been pushing the proposal but the political leadership, including Gowda, seem to be hesitant. “Interim Budget is in place. But we have to see how to give it a new direction. We should give the railways a new direction. Our own funds are insufficient. We have to mobilise it through public private partnership and foreign direct investment. The Presidential speech is our vision document,” he said. 

Gowda asserted that safety would be his priority. This would be a separate fund, the minister revealed. When asked about the safety fund created during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee regime when Nitish Kumar was the railway minister, Gowda asserted it would not be the same and that resources might be mobilised in a different manner. “The safety fund was not utilised properly,” the minister alleged. 

Gowda said that on-going projects would get priority and a priority list is being prepared. He also said that long pending projects are being reviewed. 

If the current funding pattern continues, some projects could take 50 years to be completed. “We will decide about such projects,” he said. 

Gowda said he has written to all chief ministers to become partners in railway projects on a 50:50 basis. “Only Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka have responded,” the minister added. 

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