Railway passenger fares are likely to go up, with the new Railway Minister, Pawan Kumar Bansal, stating that he supports an increase in fares commensurate with an improvement in services.
Bansal, who took charge of the Ministry on Monday after the Cabinet reshuffle on Sunday, however, declined to comment on the timing. “I will meet the Board Members tomorrow (Tuesday). And then discuss with the Prime Minister before taking a final step,” he said.
Bansal wore the ‘frequent rail traveller’ tag on his sleeve while talking to the media. “When I travel from New Delhi to Chandigarh on the Shatabdi, many co-passengers tell me that they would like better train services and are willing to pay more for it,” he said. “I intend to make rail the preferred travel mode for more people,” he added.
Asked if he would go in for the fare hike proposals suggested in the Railway Budget by Dinesh Trivedi and supported by the Prime Minister, Bansal said: “I will first need to discuss the matter. But, as far as I remember, everybody had welcomed the fare hike…and it was not particularly high.”
He said safety, punctuality, cleanliness, better service and the freight corridor were some of his priorities.
Bansal, the 40th Railway Minister in the history of Indian Railways, is also the fourth Minister to occupy the chair in 2012 — which is a record. His predecessors in 2012 were C.P. Joshi, who held additional charge for over a month, Mukul Roy and Dinesh Trivedi.
Bansal showed a glimpse of his mettle when he emerged as probably the first Railway Minister to candidly support a passenger fare hike on his first day in office. “Financial health of Railways is important. I am not for mindless fare increases. But the fares cannot be kept so low that Railways struggle to exist,” he said.
Other pending jobs for Bansal include award of locomotive factories, including one for two American firms — GE and EMD. Even American President Barack Obama had drawn attention to this project.