The government is open to revising passenger fares but with an eye to improving services and not to earn profit, new Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal said Monday.
Bansal said he would discuss the issue with the full railway board Tuesday and then take it up with Prime Minister Manmohan SIngh.
“We want to run the railways on sound financial principles,” he said.
A regular railway user, Bansal said he usually takes the Shatabdi Express to his home town Chandigarh.
“Many a time, people suggest to me they won’t mind the government hiking fares if the services are made better,” he said.
Looking relaxed in his office, Bansal said he saw the railways as a “key responsibility” entrusted to him by the prime minister and said it would be his sincere endeavour to live up to expectations.
Safety and modernisation of the network were his priorities, said Bansal.
There had been no forward movement on improving railway safety and modernisation in the past three years, said an official.
The ailing ministry, long with the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress, was given to Congress’s C.P. Joshi after the party quit the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in September this year. The railways portfolio has come back to the Congress after a gap of 17 years.
Sources said Bansal is expected to work in close coordination with Finance Minister P. Chidambaram and the prime minister to shore up the key infrastructure ministry.
At present, the railways spends all its earnings on just running the network with no money left for big development projects.
Eyebrows had been raised about the Trinamool’s handling of the ministry – overseeing a network that carries 22 million passengers on 11,000 trains per day – under Mamata Banerjee and Mukul Roy, barring the short term of Dinesh Trivedi in UPA-II.
Roy, in fact, had come into office in extremely controversial circumstances. Banerjee had vacated the portfolio after the Trinamool ended more than three decades of Left rule in West Bengal and became the state’s chief minister in summer of 2011.
She nominated Trivedi as railway minister last year but recommended his dismissal in March 2012 when he proposed hikes in certain classes of passenger fares in the railway budget for 2012-13.
Manmohan Singh appreciated Trivedi’s budget but had to give in to Banerjee’s diktats and removed him. Roy was given the ministry despite the fact that as a junior railway minister he had refused to visit the site of a major train accident in Assam in July 2011.