India hikes railway fares after nine-year freeze

Indian passengers hope for better service on the railways

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India's Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi has announced a small rise in passenger fares, the first in nearly a decade.

Mr Trivedi said he was raising the fares by a maximum of 30 paisa ($0.006; £0.0038) per km because the network was passing through a "difficult phase".

But allies of the Congress party-led government have opposed the hike, calling for it to be rolled back.

India's state-owned railway operates 7,000 passenger trains and carries some 13 million passengers daily.

Indian Railways is also one of the world's largest employers, with more than 1.4 million people working for it.

Unveiling the railway budget for 2012-13 in parliament on Wednesday, Mr Trivedi said about 100,000 more people would be recruited in the 2012-13 fiscal year.

He also announced plans to invest $147bn in the next five years.

'Massacre'

In his 2012-13 Budget speech, which continued for more than 100 minutes, Mr Trivedi said the hikes were aimed at rationalising the fares to cause "minimal impact" on ordinary passengers and "to keep the burden within tolerance limits in general".

However, within hours of his announcement Mamata Banerjee, the chief of Mr Trivedi's Trinamool Congress Party, rejected the fare increase.

Trinamool Congress is an ally of the Congress party in government.

Reports say she wants Mr Trivedi to roll back the increase because it would have a negative impact on most passengers.

Mr Trivedi said he had been counselled to go for steep increase in fares as there had been no increase in nearly a decade but he chose not to do so "guided by the over-riding concern for the common man".

Railways officials say the jump in fuel prices over the last eight years has badly affected their bottom line.

The railway minister also said he aimed to eliminate fatalities on the busy railway network.

A recent official report revealed that nearly 15,000 people die every year crossing tracks - a figure that the government described as a "massacre".

The minister said the government aimed to spend 601bn rupees ($12bn; £7.5bn) in the next year on improving safety and tracks, building new lines and introducing new trains, including 75 express trains.

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