Indian minister under fire for fare hike

Railway minister's fate hangs in balance after his proposal to increase passenger fares angered party leadership.

    Indian minister under fire for fare hike
    Rail experts say India's rail network is desperately in need of funds for infrastructure and safety upgrades [AFP]

    The Indian railways minister is faced with an uncertain future after his announcement to nominally raise fares angered the leaders of his regional party.

    The leadership of Dinesh Trivedi's Trinamool Congress (TMC) party - a partner in the federal government - has reportedly sought his resignation.

    Pranab Mukherjee, the finance minister and senior leader of the Congress party which leads the federal coalition, told the parliament on Thursday that Trivedi had not resigned yet, contrary to media reports.

    He, however, confirmed that Manmohan Singh, the prime minister, had received a communication from Mamata Banerjee, the TMC chief, demanding that Trivedi be replaced with another party leader.

    Banerjee, the populist chief minister of the West Bengal state, had earlier asked Trivedi to either roll back the increase or resign after he presented his maiden budget on Wednesday.

    Despite earning the displeasure of his party, Trivedi put up a brave face on Thursday.

    "I don't have any fascination for the chair," he said in parliament.

    Opposition politicians seized on Wednesday's fare increase to attack the federal coalition government, which is already reeling from a slew of corruption scandals and was battered in crucial state elections last week.

    'Generational change'

    Trivedi told parliament that the first fare increase in eight years would add as little as one rupee (two cents) for every 50km travelled on the cheapest fares.

    "I had two very clear yet contrasting options - either to keep the railways in status quo mode with just incremental annual changes or, as the phrase goes, bite the bullet," Trivedi told parliament on Wednesday.

    "The second option would involve going for a generational change with a focus on safety and inclusive growth to meet the aspirations of this great country in the next decade. I chose the generational change," he said.

    Under the new fare structure, the second-class fare on an ordinary train from New Delhi to the financial hub, Mumbai about 1,390km away, will rise 21 per cent to 260 rupees ($5.21). A first-class fare on an air-conditioned Rajdhani Express on the same route rises 14 per cent to 3,445 rupees.

    The passenger fare increase bucked a populist trend to help mend the finances of the mammoth public sector network that is a bottleneck for growth in Asia's third-largest economy.

    Rail experts said India's huge rail network was desperately in need of funds for infrastructure and safety upgrades.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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