New Delhi: A day before train journeys start costing substantially more, the government is being asked to withdraw the hike in fares by its own lawmakers from Maharashtra, where assembly elections are expected in October.
A group of MPs from the BJP and the Shiv Sena met Railway Minister Sadananda Gowda this morning to stress the impact that the new fares will have on lakhs of commuters in Mumbai, whose daily routine is navigated by the local trains which will cost twice as much starting tomorrow. Some 75 lakh commuters travel on these trains each day.
"The Railways Minister assured us that feelings of Mumbaikars will be considered," said the BJP's Kirit Somaiya after the meeting.
The Shiv Sena is the BJP's oldest ally and has been unsparing in its criticism of the 14.2% hike in train fares announced last Friday. Yesterday, it compared the hike to "a train being run over the common man". (Trainwreck, Alleges BJP Ally Sena on New Fares, Wants Rollback)
For 15 years, the BJP and Sena have been consigned to the role of the opposition in Maharashtra. But in the recent national election, the alliance won 41 of the state's 48 seats, suggesting that a window has opened for wresting power from the coalition of the Congress and Sharad Pawar's NCP which has governed the state since 1999.
Costlier train rides could stymie the BJP-Sena's comeback by alienating voters just when they seem to be ready for a change, the parties' representatives have informed top leaders.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and other BJP leaders have defended the hike as necessary; they say the previous UPA government backtracked on a plan to increase fares just before the national election, leaving the unpopular decision to Narendra Modi's new administration. (Rail Fare Hike Difficult But Correct Decision, Says Finance Minister Arun Jaitley)
The Indian Railways, one of the world's largest rail networks, is desperate for funds after years of low investment and populist policies to subsidise fares.