Faced with protests across Maharashtra, including from his own Bharatiya Janata Party members, the Modi government is considering recalibrating suburban railway fares in Mumbai and elsewhere to stagger the massive fare hike over phases.
On a day when both the BJP and its Maharashtra ally the Shiv Sena slammed the unprecedented fare increase, the government is grappling with the problem of matching the soaring cost of running the railways with more graduated fare hikes.
Several reports citing sources suggest that discussions on moderating the increase may begin after railway minister D Sadanand Gowda's return to New Delhi today.
The ministry had announced a 14.2-per cent across-the-board increase in passenger fares and a 6.5-per cent increase in freight rates, effective 25 June, to raise an estimated Rs8,000 crore in the current financial year. While raising long-distance fares by ahave passed almost unnoticed, the doubling of fares on Mumbai's commuter lifeline was not met with similar indifference (See: Train fares to go up 14.2%, freight rate raised by 6.5%).
BJP leader from Mumbai Kirit Somaiya said after meeting the railway minister Sadanand Gowda, said, "The railway minister has assured us that the monthly season ticket decision will be reconsidered and a decision taken within 2-3 days," Somaiya said after meeting the minister.
The railway ministry had doubled the fares for the suburban train users by calculating the fare on the basis of 30 days' singly journey fare instead of the 15 days' single journey fare calculated till now, taking the monthly tickets beyond the reach of many of the suburban rail users.
Beginning 25 June 2014, second class monthly season ticket (MST) fares of suburban and non-suburban trains will be charged on the basis of 30 single journeys instead of approximately 15 single journeys at present.
Fares of first class monthly season tickets will be charged at four times the second class monthly season tickets (MST) fares as is done at present, as per the railway budget.
The Mumbai rollback seems the more likely given the intense criticism by the PM's party as well as its ally the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, which is heading for state elections in a few months. The Mumbai suburban railway is the lifeline of India's financial capital.
While government officials baulked at calling the respite a 'rollback', a phase-wise reduction of subsidy is expected to slash a big chunk of the hike which is scheduled to come into effect on Wednesday.
In Kolkata, the West Bengal assembly almost predictably adopted a resolution against the decision to hike railway fares and demanded its immediate withdrawal.
Moving the resolution in the Bengal assembly, state parliamentary affairs minister Partha Chatterjee said, "This highest-ever increase in rates is unexpected and unprecedented. This house strongly condemns the central government's decision and demands immediate withdrawal of this decision."
A statement issued by the railway ministry said the revision was part of the interim budget exercise by the previous government, which, however, deferred implementation of the rate revision because of the elections.
Railway minister Sadananda Gowda is slated to present the Rail Budget 2014-15 on 8 July.