Railway fare concessions to senior citizens, which were stopped during Covid, have not yet been reinstated despite MPs from both the ruling BJP and main opposition Congress batting for it, and a Parliament committee recommending it. While this concession was shelved citing growing subsidy bills, the Indian Railways continued to subsidise train tickets for present and former Members of Parliament (MPs), which has drawn criticism from many.
The senior citizen concessions were stopped from March 20, 2020. In August, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Railways recommended to the Ministry of Railways that the subsidised fares — amounting to 40 per cent to 50 per cent of the total fare — be restored.
Senior citizens used to get a concession of 50 per cent for women and 40 per cent for men, above 60 years of age.
Between April 2020 and September 2022, the railways earned Rs 5808.85 crore from 9.36 crore senior citizens.
A Right To Information query filed by Madhya Pradesh’s Neemuch based RTI activist Chandra Shekhar Gaur has revealed that the Indian Railways has saved Rs 2,560.9 crore by suspending concessional fares to senior citizens since the Covid pandemic began. Mr Gaur also sought details of action taken on the recommendation made by the parliamentary committee on the concession, to which the government said it has provided a subsidy of Rs 59,837 crore on passenger tickets in the year 2019-20. This subsidy, which is for all passengers across all age groups, is equivalent to 53 per cent concession to every train passenger.
SK Khanna is 78 years old, still working as an insurance agent, and has come for his railway reservation at Rani Kamalapati station in Bhopal. He argues elderly people like him earn less and the concession was a big help to them. “We have medical expenses too. Sometimes, I have to ask my children for money. A few months back, we heard that railways will restart giving concession to us, but we are still waiting,” he told NDTV.
Several senior citizens were standing at the counter. 66 years old Pratap Malik said, “The government has done injustice. We anyway don’t travel much, so there’s not much loss for the government.”
While Indian Railways has been refusing concessions to senior citizens citing the need to cut its subsidy bills, documents accessed under the Right to Information (RTI) Act show that Indian Railways continued to subsidise train tickets for current and former MPs. Data accessed through RTI queries shows the centre has spent more than Rs 62 crore in concessions on railway travel for MPs and former MPs in the last five years.
MPs of both ruling and opposition parties have argued for the concession to be restored. Senior BJP leader and MP Jagdambika Pal said, “At least the facilities which were available to senior citizens in Railways and were closed due to Covid at that time should be started. I will meet the minister and request him to start it. It is not a question of income. This is a welfare state, it takes care of its senior citizens and provides facilities to them”.
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor said, “How much money does railways make in such a way, only 1 per cent of the income is due to the elderly. I request the railways to give respect to the elderly and restore the concession.”
RTI data further shows that trains were delayed by a total of 1.27 crore minutes, or 24 years, in just seven months. Acoording to the RTI reply, railways has stated that in last seven months, express train lost 71,48,154 minutes and passengers trains lost 55,53,506 minutes. Total time lost by both trains is 1.27 crore minutes (1,27,01,660 minutes). If we calculate the same in year or days, it adds up to 24.16 years.
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