Retracing his step apparently out of political expediency, Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal on Wednesday cast into the cold storage both the proposals of hiking passenger fares and setting up a mechanism for adjusting fares and freight charges for guarding against the volatility of diesel prices.
Talking to reporters, Mr. Bansal went back on his earlier announcement of raising passenger fares for second and sleeper classes in the near future saying it would take more time to firm up a decision. He however added that he was not ruling out the hike in passenger fares.
Similarly, Mr. Bansal dithered on the fate of the Rail Tariff Authority saying the structure was still being debated and it would require the clearance of the Cabinet. He declined to set a timeline but added that once set up its recommendation would be an important input in revising passenger fares and freight charges.
Even as he stressed on the need to improve the financial health of the railways, the Railway Minister admitted that the issue of raising passenger fares was different from that of freight charges. He did not elaborate even as he underscored the skewed cross subsidisation to the disadvantage of the freight business.
Referring to the increase in the haulage charges of container cargo, Mr. Bansal said that he had received representations from the private players and would consider their proposals but added that the rates notified stand as of now effective December 1.
Denying that the national transporter was in the ICU, the Railway Minister said it was actually up and kicking otherwise it would not be able to render all that was required of it. He said that there were different financial models that were being considered besides internal accruals to give a push to priorities and thrust areas.
Budgetary support is one such avenue with the Centre committing Rs. 1.94 lakh crore during the 12 Five Year Plan, besides resorting to market borrowings and revised and different forms of PPP mode investments.
As against the two lakh vacancies, process was underway to appoint 1.15 lakh group C and D personnel, some of which were in the final phase of recruitment.
The issue of leasing locos to Pakistan was still under discussion, he said, adding that the arrangements were being worked out.
Mr. Bansal said his emphasis would be on giving a push to the 3300 km long dedicated freight corridors, taking up the 63 km elevated rail corridor in Mumbai at an estimated cost of Rs. 20000 crore and the 534 km Mumbai-Ahmedabad high speed rail corridor at an estimated cost of Rs. 63000 crore.