Congress leader Pawan Kumar Bansal who replaced Trinamool Congress' Mukul Roy as a full-time railway minister has indicated a passenger fare hike anytime soon. Expressing concerns towards the skewed tariff ratio in India, Bansal showed his keenness towards rationalization of the fare structure.
The Railways is in the process of the formation of Rail Tariff Authority but he emphasied that fare hike will be independent of the formation of the Authority. "While taking care of the physical health of railways, the financial health of railways should also be taken care of.Though we are increasing revenue and our efficiency; yet the finances are a matter of concern," said Bansal.
The tariff ratio in India is around 0.32 whereas in China it is around 1.32, the minister added. This means that the railways earn 32 paisa from passenger vis a vis 1 rupee from freight.
The discussions are happening within the Railway Board about the Rail Tariff Authority. Only after the framework is ready and Cabinet clears it will this be in place. Vinay Mittal, chairman Railway Board said the tariff Authority will be basically to depoliticize the fares. As of now, the ministry has complete authority to change fares and freight rates and it has been already mandated by law."
The Cabinet is also likely to consider a policy on first and last mile connectivity projects including port projects also tomorrow. The railway expects to attract investments from the stakeholders in rail infrastructure. According to a senior railway official, "With the stakeholders investing in the infrastructure, we will work on a model to generate healthy returns for the private parties."
The railway ministry has already identified more than a two dozen projects for providing first and last mile connectivity to coal, power and steel plants. These also include port connectivity projects."
Bansal said that the railways needs to focus on safety, modernization and infrastructure."Our thrust areas will be augmentation of capacity by induction of diesel and electric locomotives, high capacity wagons through joint ventures and PPP initiatives,encouraging private investments in rail connectivity projects, induction of modern technology to prevent accidents and DFCC should be completed within time." He said the railway intends to complete DFCC project within this five-year plan.