New Delhi: The government today announced a steep hike in train fares in the first dose of the bitter medicine that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said was essential to revive India's economy.
The move provoked criticism from opposition parties who mocked the ruling BJP's election slogan - "Achche Din Aane Wale Hain (good times are ahead)."
From Wednesday, rail passenger fares will increase by 14.2 percent and freight rates by 6.5 percent.
The hike in passenger fares could bring nearly Rs. 6000 cr to the Railways, which needs massive funds to upgrade its infrastructure after years of low investment and populist policies.
Among the first to hit out at the Narendra Modi government was Bihar politician Lalu Prasad Yadav, who left train fares untouched during his tenure as railway minister in 2004-2009.
"Acche din. Acche din. The BJP has fired its first salvo at the poor people of this country. Whenever the BJP comes to power, they try and get a few people all the advantage," Mr Yadav said, demanding a rollback. (Also read: Nitish Kumar Flays Modi Government For Rail Fare Hike Before Budget)
Senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh tweeted, "Ab ki bar Double Speak Sarkar" and posted a letter that Mr Modi had written against a hike in freight rates by the UPA. "Modi wrote a letter to PM in 2012 on the Rail fare hike ! ACHHE DIN AA GAYE !
Hiking train fares is an unpopular decision that has always been viewed as politically risky, the reason why most Railway Ministers have steered clear of it.
Railway Minister Sadananda Gowda said he had only taken forward what the previous government had decided. "10% increase in passenger fare and 5% increase in freight was made in the interim budget but the previous government withheld it," he said.
The previous Congress-led UPA government had left passenger fares unchanged in the interim budget in February, just before the national election.
Indian Railways, which manages the world's largest network of trains and transports an estimated 25 million each day, is currently facing a severe financial crunch with passenger subsidy touching Rs. 26,000 crore.