Milk has fare lessons for the Delhi metro

Tina Edwin | Updated on January 08, 2018

Shaken up The poor commuter SHIV KUMAR PUSHPAKAR   -  Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

Revisions in fares should be implemented in small doses, at regular intervals. Only this will help the commuter cope

Delhi Metro fares have risen sharply since May, even doubling for some commuters. That’s upset many household budgets. The fares revision was implemented in two phases, the first effective from May 10 and the second from October 10, but the staggered increase provided cold comfort.

Fare revision was long overdue, and there was absolutely no doubt that the increase was unavoidable. The last increase was implemented in Nov 2009, when the UPA was in power at the Centre and the Congress was in power in Delhi. The length of the metro was about 90 km then.

Since then the network has expanded to many more areas of the NCR and people are travelling longer distances. Its currently operational length is over 200 km, not counting the length of the Airport Express line which anyway has a different fare structure. For the record, fares for that line were slashed to increase its ridership. And ridership did rise, not because many more people are using it to travel to the airport from central Delhi, but because the office-going crowd uses it for a faster commute. People from parts of West Delhi can get to Connaught Place Central Business District in less than half-an-hour if they board the train at Sector 22 of Dwarka — all for ₹60. If they travelled by the regular metro, the commute would take about an hour.

While a section of Delhi will happily pay more, that doesn’t hold good for the entire population that uses the metro daily. The two increases in fare together can set a household back by ₹2,500-3,000 a month, where four people use the network to get to work or educational institutions. For families running their households on a tight budget, that is a big burden.

Late reaction

The increase in fares, although unavoidable, has come very late. The sharp increase could have been easily avoided if the Government had acted in time to set up a fare fixation committee to recommend revision of fares. The Delhi Metro rules requires the urban development ministry, now renamed the ministry of housing and urban affairs, to set up the committee under the chairmanship of a retired judge and send its recommendation for clearance by the Appointments Committee of Cabinet.

The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation led by its managing director Mangu Singh had petitioned the ministry several times beginning 2012 to set up such a committee; the ministry sent its recommendations to the department of personnel and training to obtain ACC clearance. However, the ACC rejected the urban development ministry’s recommendation four times between December 2012 and March 2014. That was during the term of the UPA government.

The Justice ML Mehta committee which recommended the recent increases was constituted only in May 2016. It submitted its recommendations in end September 2016 after the ministry declined to extend it term to finalise the report.

However, a decision on implementing the recommendations was taken only on May 8, 2017 a fortnight after the Delhi Municipal elections. Could the decisions not have been partly implemented last year?

A better process

Staggered increases in fares with a gap longer than five months reduces the pain for metro users. A small annual revision of fares is likely to be more acceptable. Take for example milk prices — they move only upwards. Milk prices in Delhi have almost doubled since November 2009 which was when metro fares were revised before the current round of revision. At that time, a litre of toned milk retailed at ₹22. It now retails at ₹42 a litre. The price of double-toned milk has similarly increased.

Milk prices are usually raised by about a rupee. Sometimes there has been more than one increase. The latest increase, a few months ago, was a steep ₹3, after prices remained unchanged through most of 2015 and 2016.

Yet, one did not hear of organised protests. This increase is necessary to ensure farmers earn enough. The jump in retail prices hurts the poor but most others remained relatively unaffected.

Similarly, metro fares need to rise periodically to ensure sufficient earnings from the core operation to pay for rising expenses on staff, electricity and maintenance. It needs to be run like a commercial organisation, independent of how its owners perform in the in elections. The Centre and the Delhi government have equal equity holding in DMRC.

Published on October 12, 2017

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