The railway minister has announced a hike in fares even before the budget session. The government is unlikely to give more funds to the Railways and several modernisation projects can be undertaken only if the Railways can generate enough revenues
Railway minister Pawan Kumar Bansal has announced a fare hike with effect from 21st January midnight. There will be no increase during the budget, he added. This is the first railway fare hike in ten years. The new fares imply a 2 paise per kilometre increase in second class ordinary suburban tariffs. The fare for second class non suburban travel has gone up by 3 paise per kilometre and that of sleeper class has been hiked by 6 paise per kilometre. Travelling in air conditioned (AC) chair car and AC sleeper class will now be costlier by 10 paise per kilometre. In effect, the same railway fare hike that lost Dinesh Trivedi, the job of the railway minister has now been implemented after the Trinamool Congress, to which he belonged, is no longer a part of the government.
However, the big flash about the railway fare hike is misleading. Prices for local commuter fares have already been hiked in Mumbai from 1st January. The irony is that Mumbai faced the worst hardship and lost at least four lives due to a badly planned and managed mega block (closure for repairs) over the year end which extended into the New Year. Both railway associations and commuters are extremely agitated at poor safety standards and the inhuman overloading of passengers in Mumbai, although the city is a big revenue earner.
According to Madhu Kotian, president, Mumbai Rail Pravasi Sangh, “We will neither welcome, nor protest the hike. If the additional revenue from the hike is given for improving infrastructure of Mumbai local railways, then we will welcome it. The hike could have been done 10 years ago as the situation in local trains has gone from bad to worse. Even non-peak hours have seen peak hour rush. Some people have simply stopped working as they cannot enter trains.”
Expressing concerns about the local railway infrastructure he added, “People from all over India come to Mumbai for jobs. But, infrastructure projects for local railways have not been implemented due to lack of funds. Due to regional parties holding the ministry there has been a neglect of Mumbai’s local issues as they want to pander to their own local vote banks. They have to realise that their own people come to Mumbai for jobs and there is need for funds to improve conditions for 70 lakh commuters of Mumbai local railways.”
The Railways estimates suggest that it looses Rs21,000 crore annually in the passenger fare segment. It is reported that Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia met Mr Bansal and told him that the government may not give more funds to the Railways. Mr Ahluwalia said that it has to generate revenue to fund its dream projects including modernisation and expansion—particularly the dedicated freight corridor and high speed bullet trains.
Deepak Gandhi is the president of Mumbai Suburban Passengers Association who has been fighting the cause of railway passengers for 50 years. According to him, “The hike is a premium on inefficiency. Today, trains are running slower than in 1947. New technology is not implemented and there is huge wastage of resources. We should be having double the number of services on the same tracks. Corridors can be reached in half the time if efficiency is improved. Politicians do not apply their mind. Whatever the bureaucrats say, it is blindly implemented. The benefit is not coming to the public. There is total abuse due to Railways monopoly.”
Dinesh Trivedi, former railway minister, while speaking at an event organised by Moneylife Foundation, had said that the entire railway system is in a mess and there is a urgent need to modernize it so that people can travel safely with some dignity, unlike what every commuter, especially on Mumbai local trains experience every day. “There are no maintenance contracts given by the Railways and they are carrying out even the basic repairs on ad-hoc basis,” he had said.
Mr Bansal is reported to have said that the cross-subsidization—a scheme where railways charge higher freight rates in order to keep the passenger fares low—has become unviable and railways can persist with it only at the cost of pricing them out of the goods transportation business. Road transporters will result in clogged roads, higher transport cost for goods and higher pollution.
He also said that railways needed funds to do even the elementary things—from upgrading signalling system to facilitate running of trains through fog, installation of anti-collision devices to bio toilets in coaches and at stations as part of ensuring better hygiene.
Pakistani regular soldiers crossed into Indian territory in Poonch sector and ambushed an Indian patrol killing two soldiers, one of whom was decapitated
New Delhi: India on Wednesday described as inhuman the way the dead bodies of two Indian soldiers were treated by Pakistan regular troops after their “highly provocative” attack in its territory in Jammu and Kashmir, reports PTI.
Defence minister AK Antony said the Indian government will convey to Pakistan its protest against the attack on Tuesday in the Mendhar sector in Poonch district of North Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir.
The Indian Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) will also take up the incident with his Pakistani counterpart, he added.
“Pakistan Army’s action is highly provocative. The way they treated the dead bodies of Indian soldiers is inhuman. We will convey our protest to Pakistan government and our DGMO will talk to his counterpart. We are closely following the situation,” Antony told reporters.
Pakistani regular soldiers crossed into Indian territory in Poonch sector and ambushed an Indian patrol killing two soldiers, one of whom was decapitated.
Army’s Additional Director General (Public Information) Major General SL Narasimhan said on Tuesday Northern Army Commander Lt Gen KT Parnaik visited the scene of action and confirmed that one of the two bodies was mutilated.
Other sources said the heads of both the Indian soldiers—Lance Naiks, Hemraj and Sudhakar Singh—have been chopped off and one was taken away by Pakistani intruders.
The brutal nature of the attack was a chilling reminder of the brutal attack on Capt Saurabh Kalia and his team by Pakistani troops in Kaksar sector of Kargil during the 1999 conflict.
The attack took place along the Line of Control (LoC) in Poonch district when Pakistanis came about 100 metres into Indian territory and assaulted the patrol party.
Besides killing two, they also injured two other soldiers and took away their weapons and other belongings.
The finance ministry said it is moving on the right track and is confident of restricting fiscal deficit to 5.3% of GDP this fiscal
Mumbai: Rating agency Fitch warned of a downgrade in India’s sovereign rating in the next 12-24 months citing slowing GDP growth and weak public finances, reports PTI.
The finance ministry, however, played down the issue, saying the government is on the right direction on fiscal front.
“Back in the middle of June, we had placed a negative outlook on India’s sovereign rating, which currently stands at BBB-. The negative outlook suggests that there is a... likely chance of revising the rating downward from BBB- in the 12-24 months,” Fitch said in a conference call from Tokyo.
The finance ministry said it is moving on the right track and is confident of restricting fiscal deficit to 5.3% of GDP this fiscal.
“We are not worried. We have been saying we are on the right track. But people still distrust us and ask whether we will able to achieve fiscal deficit target ... We will adhere to fiscal consolidation roadmap,” Economic Affairs Secretary Arvind Mayaram told PTI in Delhi.
He pointed out that the government has taken a number of steps to restrict the gap between expenditure and revenue collection to 5.3% of GDP during FY13, and added the process would continue in the subsequent years as well.
Fitch is the second global agency to reiterate its warning to junk the sovereign rating after its larger peer S&P, which in April and June, had warned of further downgrades which would put India into junk status from the current lowest investment grade rating of BBB-. But another agency Moody’s has a stable outlook for the Asia's third largest economy.
Fitch also expressed its concerns over the country's economic and fiscal outlook.
“The negative outlook indicates concerns about the deterioration in the economic and fiscal outlook, particularly about the short slowdown in growth, persistent inflationary pressure and weak public finances,” Fitch sovereign rating analyst Art Woo told a conference.
While the Indian economy has been expanding at the slowest pace in the past one decade, inflationary pressure still persists with wholesale price-based inflation hovering at 7.24% in November.
Pointing out at macroeconomic indicators, Fitch said the macroeconomic trends have been a bit disappointing with real GDP growth slowing down to 5%-5.5% in previous quarters and wholesale price inflation remaining elevated.
In the first half of FY13, the GDP clipped at a poor 5.4%, and the government expects to close the fiscal year under 5.7%.
The agency said India's higher current account deficit numbers, which touched 5.4% for the second quarter with fiscal deficit touching 80% in the first eight months of this financial year, remained areas of concern.
However, Fitch lauded the government's recent reform measures as “the steps in the right direction”.
“There have been number of noteworthy developments...which were initiated in September and October. On the positive side...measures taken by the Government to increase foreign investment in a number of sectors, particularly in the multi- brand retail, are steps in the right direction,” Woo said.
He, however, said given the track-record of “policy paralysis” of the government, execution risks remain.
The rating agency noted that upcoming Budget would indicate the government’s commitment to fiscal consolidation, which will determine the macroeconomic health in the future.