CHENNAI: The Indian Railways, under the present BJP government, has taken a giant step in transforming itself from being a public service transporter to a self-sustainable system. Unfortunately, this has happened at the expense of passengers. By using multiple tactics to increase revenue, without actually increasing ticket fare, Railways has indicated its intention to sideline passengers who mostly depend on the subsidised mode of transport -- the poor.
Data makes this evident. For instance, between April 2013 and March 2014, a total of 842.5 crore passengers used the service, and Railways earned a revenue of Rs 36,532 crore. In 2017-18, meanwhile, passenger patronage plunged to 692.9 crore, but revenues shot up to Rs 40,409 crore. That means, in the last four years, though the service lost a mammoth 150 crore passengers, its revenues shot up by Rs 3,900 crore.
The trend has been attributed to multiple factors. Sleeper class coaches in normals trains have been reduced, premium tatkal ticketing policy was introduced, so was a flexi-fare system in premier trains. The service has even started charging full fares for children availing berths. Sleeper berths in Pandiyan, Rockfort and Cholan reduced from 864 to 702 in the last one year while Nellai and Podhigai Express has lost 84 sleeper berths while migrating from ICF to LHB rakes.
The 15 per cent premium tatkal quota introduced in 2015 is said to have affected the train occupancy level in many sections. Under premium tatkal quota, 50 per cent of tatkal tickets (15 per cent of total tickets) are sold on dynamic pricing - ticket fares go high as the demand increases.
Similarly Palani - Pollachi - Palakkad, Pollachi - Podanur, Manamadhurai - Virudhungar - Aruppukottai, Katpadi- Velllore - Tiruvannamalai - Villupuram and Salem - Namakkal - Karur - Dindigul sections which are converted into broad gauge remain under-utilised for several years because railways not keen in operating regular passenger trains.
The special fare special trains are charged 30 per cent higher fare than the regular trains, while fare of Suvidha trains is charged on dynamic pricing. “By not introducing regular trains in congested routes, railways indirectly promoted the special trains which may result in migration of passengers to another mode of transport. It is evident that railways wanted to reduce transportation of lower fare classes,” said Naina Masilamani, member of divisional rail user’s consultative committee.
However, on the other side, many passenger-friendly services including onboard train cleaning, battery operated cars, escalators and lifts in major stations which were introduced in the recent years have made the train travel experience better. Upgradation of IRCTC portal has come as huge relief for disabled and patients to avail the concession online.
The separate budget for railways which has been in practised since 1924 was withdrawn in 2016 and merged with the general budget. Though the move was dubbed as a reform to improve the fund allocation for railways it hardly had any impact on the ongoing railway projects.