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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Rail travel, govt services may cost more

NEW DELHI: Get ready to shell out more for your train journey and several other services provided by the government — from parcels to patents.

Pawan Kumar Bansal, the new railway minister, on Monday hinted at an increase in passenger fares with a caveat that it was not meant to earn a profit for the state-run transporter. "Fares will not be increased for the sake of increasing fare. If fare will be increased, then it will be for providing better services to passengers," Bansal said soon after taking charge of the ministry, which has returned to the Congress-fold after 17 years.

"We want to run the railways on sound financial principles," Bansal said, adding that he would discuss the issue with the railway Board on Tuesday, and then take it up with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Ordinary passenger fares have not been raised for nearly a decade, and earlier this year the government was forced to limit the hike to air-conditioned sleeper coaches after stiff opposition from Trinamool Congress, its erstwhile ally. The national transporter is under financial strain and funds earmarked for several projects are being curtailed.

Bansal, himself a frequent traveler on Shatabdi Express, said that even passengers are willing to pay more for better services. "Many a time, people suggest to me they won't mind the government hiking fares if the services are made better," he said while identifying safety and modernization as his priorities.

Unlike the railway minister, several other ministries are ready with plans to raise user charges, or the cost a consumer pays for accessing services as part of a finance ministry-driven move to raise more resources. For instance, the postal department is in the process of "rationalizing" tariffs although the aam aadmi services such as post cards may be spared. An official said that the exercise would include an increase in money order and parcel tariffs apart from the commission that the state-run India Posts earns by rendering services.

Similarly, since the Patent Office is in the midst of an increase in the application fee, the move is unlikely to raise any eyebrows.

Already, passport charges have been raised by 50% from Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,500, while for tatkal the tariffs have increased from Rs 2,500 to Rs 3,500 from October 1.

The finance ministry has repeatedly flagged the issue of raising these charges but given the acute financial stress it is only now that the move has acquired some seriousness. For the government an increase in passport and patent fees is unlikely to result in a significant gain as they together generate around Rs 3,500 crore annually. Even the increase in postal charges will only reduce the postal deficit marginally from a little over Rs 5,700 crore budgeted for the current fiscal.

Officials, however, said that the move will signal the government's intent to fiscal consolidation. 
Source : The Times of India, Oct. 30, 2012

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