Even as an all-Congress team took charge of the Railway Ministry, the man at the helm, Pawan Kumar Bansal, hinted at raising the passenger fares.
Mr. Bansal and Ministers of State Kotla Jaya Surya Prakash Reddy and Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury assumed office on Monday.
“In public interest”
Talking to reporters soon after, Mr. Bansal said fares would not be raised for the sake of it but only to protect the interests of people by preventing the railways from collapsing.
Mr. Bansal has convened a meeting of the Railway Board on Tuesday to consider the entire gamut of issues relating to the financial and physical health of the railways, including need to raise passenger fares and improve services.
He was confident that people would approve of the hike if services were improved commensurately. “The endeavour will be to provide hassle-free access to the railways.”
According to an internal note, the railways bore an operating loss of about Rs. 21,000 crore in 2010-11 and the same, according to sources, were estimated to be about Rs. 22,000 crore in 2011-12 and to rise to Rs. 23,000 crore in the current financial year.
Of this, the loss on account of catering was Rs. 800 crore in 2010-11 and Rs. 2,350 crore in operating local trains. Hence, the loss on account of running long-distance trains was almost Rs. 17,500 crore.
His priority would be to ensure cleanliness besides safety and punctuality of trains. Steps would be drawn up to have clean toilets in trains and at stations and this issue would be given priority at Tuesday’s meeting, he stressed.
He promised to put technology to better use and give people an improved ticket purchasing system without technical glitches and harassment from touts.
Mr. Chowdhury said rail services needed to be improved as these had taken a hit in the past few years though he declined to put the blame on the Trinamool Congress. The number of complaints had gone up and effort would be made to address them ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. Politics of populism should not be carried to a point that it hurt the people in the long run. The projects that were sanctioned for West Bengal would be expedited.