नयी दिल्ली New Delhi: The Railway employees unions, representing over 13 lakh workers, have supported the recent hike in passenger fare and freight.
“Do not play politics with railway fare hike,” said Shiva Gopal Mishra of the All India Railwaymen’s Federation. “The Railway is the lifeline of our country. If people want trains to run, then they should be willing to pay higher fares,” Mishra said. Marri Raghavaiah, General-Secretary of National Federation of Indian Railwaymen, said, “We support the fare hike proposed and kept on hold by Mallikarjun Kharge and implemented by the new Government. This is need of the hour to improve the condition of railways.”
It is welcome, indeed, that the new government has begun to take hard decisions. Railway fares and freight rates have to go up, to allow the Railways to invest in laying more and better tracks and to start new trains to end the endless shortage of passenger carrying capacity that crush would-be travellers.
Modernising signalling and running freight trains to a time schedule, while integrating cargo movement with road transport so as to cater to the needs of people who have to move goods some distance off the closest railway station — this is the basic challenge in reducing oil imports for the economy. It takes less energy to move goods by rail than by road. But the gross inefficiency of the Railways in moving anything but bulk goods has seen it steadily lose out to road transport.
The Rail budget must seek to reverse the trend. Raising fares to gradually eliminate cross-subsidisation by freight and to raise freight costs to reflect actual cost, both while improving systemic efficiency — this is the Railways’ challenge. The signs are that the government has the guts to take it on. It has been just two months since the Ministry of Railways has come under the control of a national party and in both years, rail tariffs have gone up sharply. This augurs well for the Railways and for the economy at large. For far too long has the ministry been run by some regional party or the other, keener on using its vast network to serve parochial interests rather than on fortifying the Railways’ own health or using the rail network to reduce the energy intensity of transport in India, they argued.
Structural reform of the Railways could take several forms, of which converting the behemoth into a number of competing companies is just one. The point is to take up one cogent reform proposal and implement it thoroughly. A short-term goal should be to design and execute rail connectivity to large coal deposits that await rail linkage to commence mining, they said.