The train service flagged off between Lucknow-Delhi-Lucknow route charges a higher fare than the existing Shatabdi Express and other trains on the same route.
The country’s first private train has contravened the Railways Act, 1989, since the Central government is the competent authority to decide on tariff and not the IRCTC, say top railway officials.
The much-publicised train service flagged off on the Lucknow-Delhi-Lucknow corridor on October 4 charges a higher fare than the existing Shatabdi Express and other trains on the same route.
The issue is being closely watched in the context of the move to run 150 more trains in private mode.
The Indian Railways had entrusted IRCTC, its commercial tourism and catering arm, with the task of operating two premium trains using the fully air-conditioned rakes of the semi-high speed Tejas Express. The second private train will soon be run on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad-Mumbai sector.
While the first corporate-run train has received good feedback from passengers. who compared its amenities and on-board service favourably with global standards, senior railway officials say the tariff fixed is apparently in violation of the Railways Act. The fares are higher and there is hardly any change in the running time.
The Delhi-Lucknow Private Train No 82502, IRCTC Tejas Express takes 6 hours and 30 minutes to cover the 511 km distance with stops at Ghaziabad (two minutes) and Kanpur Central (five minutes). The train charges Rs 2,450 for AC Executive Class and Rs 1,565 for the AC Chair Car including GST and catering.
On the other hand, Train No 12004 Delhi-Lucknow Shatabdi Express takes 6 hours 35 minutes to cover the same distance but with five stops – Ghaziabad, Aligarh, Tundla, Etawah (two minutes each) and Kanpur Central (five minutes). This train charges Rs.1855 for AC Executive Class and Rs 1,165 for the AC Chair Car including GST, Super Fast and reservation charges. The tariff for AC Chair Car for the Suhaildev Super Fast Express and Garib Rath Express on the same sector is Rs 645 and Rs 480 respectively.
Railway officials say the IRCTC is not empowered to fix the tariff.
Section 30(1) of the Railways Act which deals with the power to fix rates says “The Central Government may, from time to time, by general or special order fix, for the carriage of passengers and goods, rates for the whole or any part of the railway and different rates may be fixed for different classes of goods and specify in such order the conditions subject to which such rates shall apply.”
Also Section 50(2) of the Act says “Every railway administration shall display the hours during which booking windows at a station shall be kept open for the issue of tickets to passengers.”
Violation of these rules by a non-Governmental railway, like the private train, would attract penalty. Section 169 of the Act says “If a non-Government railway fails to comply with, any requisition made, decision or direction given, by the Central Government, under any of the provisions of this Act, or otherwise contravenes any of the provisions of this Act, it shall be open to the Central Government, by order, to levy a penalty not exceeding two hundred and fifty rupees and a further penalty not exceeding one hundred and fifty rupees for every day during which the contravention continues…”
According to a senior railway official, the Railways Act had clearly laid down that rates for carriage of passenger and goods would be decided by the Central Government. “Though the Act does not recognise a privately operated railway, the rates are to be decided by the Central Government. But no such order was issued authorising the private train authorities to decide on its tariff. If IRCTC decides on the fares, it is violation of law and invites a penalty…” the official who declined to be quoted, said.
On sale of tickets online, the official said besides its own website, IRCTC had also made tickets available through online partners like Paytm, Ixigo, PhonePe, Make My Trip etc. “There can’t be a 100% sale online. The Act says that there has to be a counter at the railway station with working hours displayed.”
IRCTC says on its website that though there will be no concession tickets in the train, children below 5 years of age were exempted from fare and would be booked with their parents. Children aged above 5 years would be booked at full fare and given a seat.
It also said that the train fare would be dynamic, keeping in view the prevailing bus, taxi, rail and airfares. The train would have different series of fares for lean, busy and festive seasons. February, March and August months would be lean season. Fares will be on point-to-point basis.
The issue has surfaced at a time when the Ministry of Railways has formed an Empowered Group of Secretaries led by the Chief Executive Officer of NITI Aayog “for development of 50 railway stations to world class standards and permit private passenger train operators to operate 150 trains with world class technology over Indian Railway network.”
Railway officials said the most important Railway asset is its path, or train route. “By running a private train for the business class, we have blocked the path during peak hours during which a regular train could be operated for the common passenger. It is not clear whether the haulage charges for this private train were fixed taking into consideration the usage of railway infrastructure like stations, electricity, water and path,” another railway official said.
Indian Railways find the path the biggest constraint today as all trunk routes are saturated, running at over 100% capacity. Since new trains cannot be added, existing trains would have to be handed over to private players. “This will mean higher fare paying passengers will displace the poorer sections. This can be addressed if private players are asked to run trains with mixed composition, AC and non-AC as well as unreserved classes”.