Indian Railways not to Restore Ticket Concessions for Senior Citizens
Bhopal: Clearing the air over the speculations of restoration of concessions on senior citizens in train tickets, the Indian railways has explicitly dismissed the prospect of restoring it. Before COVID, women passengers above the age of 58 were eligible for a 50% fare rebate, while men above 60 were eligible for a 40% discount. This applies to all trains, except Garib Rath and a few other trains like the Gatiman Express, Suvidha, and Humsafar trains.
In a reply filed by Madhya Pradesh's Neemuch-based RTI activist Chandra Shekhar Gaur to CRIS (Central railways Information Systems) seeking the status of the recommendations made by the Parliamentary standing committee on railwayss over the restoration of concessions on senior citizens in train tickets, the railways said, "After duly considering the recommendations of the standing committee, the railways has reached to the conclusions that it gave a subsidy of Rs 59,837 crore in 2019-20 on all the passenger tickets which are 53% of total the ticket's fair. Besides, the concession for disabled, patients and students are already in play."
The Ministry of railways, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak on March 19, 2020, issued a circular withdrawing all the concessions given on train tickets for various categories, including senior citizens (except four categories of Divyangjan, 11 categories of patients and students). This was done to prevent non-essential travelling during COVID-19.
Before COVID, women passengers above the age of 58 were eligible for a 50% fare rebate, while men above 60 were eligible for a 40% discount. This applies to all trains, except Garib Rath and a few other trains like the Gatiman Express, Suvidha, and Humsafar trains.
When the railways did not restore the concession after months of the COVID-19 restrictions eased off, questions were raised in the parliament. Replying to it, the Union railways minister Ashwini Vaishnaw in the Monsoon session of the parliament in 2022, said, "Re-starting concessions for senior citizens were not feasible for the government."
But after the Parliamentary standing committee on railwayss submitted its report on August 4, 2022, in favour of the restoration of senior citizens' concession for sleeper and 3AC passengers, hopes have gone up that the railwayss might restore the concessions.
The committee recommended that since the railwayss are heading towards normalcy, they should consider the concessions granted to different categories of passengers judiciously.
"The Committee desires that concessions to senior citizens which were available in pre-COVID times may be reviewed and considered at least in Sleeper Class and III AC urgently so that the vulnerable and the genuinely needy senior citizens could avail the facility in these classes," the report read.
But, the RTI reply clarifies that the railwayss has no plan to restore the concessions.
To justify their decision, the railways termed the concession to senior citizens as a 'loss of revenue'. It argued that the railways have been losing an average of Rs 1,800 crore yearly due to concession on passenger tickets which dropped to Rs 38 crore in 2020-21 -- the year concessions were dropped.
Subsidy for Senior Citizens 2016-17 to 2020-21
Nevertheless, the railways, in an RTI reply, admitted that over 65% of the senior citizens travelling between 2015 to 2018 either opted for sleeper classes or non-AC coaches.
The railways said, "Between 2015 to 2018, 54% of senior citizens preferred sleeper class, 16 % opted for 3-AC, 7% of passengers opted for Chair Car, an additional 7% travelled in 2-AC, 2% in other AC classes while the remaining 14% travelled in other non-AC coaches.
Classification of passengers travelled between 2015-2018
The data indicates that the senior citizens benefiting from the concessions belong to the middle or marginalised classes.
After dropping senior citizen concessions, the RTI further sought the details of the railways' earnings. The railways said between April 2020 and September 2022, it earned Rs 5808.85 crore by selling 11.3 crore tickets to senior citizens, including 6. 8 crore men and 4.54 crore.
The railways earned Rs 3,434 crore from males and Rs 2,373 crore from female passengers. By dropping senior citizen concessions, railways saved close to Rs 1,300 crore from male and Rs 1,200 crore from female senior citizens.
According to Gaur's RTI, the number of aged passengers, which dropped during the COVID times, is restabilising to pre-pandemic levels. In Financial Year 2019-20, Indian railways carried 7.3 crore elderly persons, dropping to 1.90 crore in FY 20-21. However, it climbed to 5.5 crore in FY22, and in the ongoing financial year till September end, it reached 3.87 crore.
Showing displeasure over the railways's decision, a member of the Bhopal Citizen Forum, Harish Bhavnani, pointed out, "It's not joyful to see that railways dropped an essential welfare scheme for senior citizens and termed it as 'loss of the revenue'. India is a welfare state, and when politicians and government officials can get concessions, why can't the senior citizens?"
"Instead of discontinuing it, the railways should raise the age bar from 60 to 65 for men and 58 to 60 for women. It may cut down the losses," he suggested.
SK Gaur, a member of the Bhopal-based senior citizen forum, further said that senior citizens are an unorganised sector, where just a small proportion of people have pensions or earnings.
"Besides, inflation is skyrocketing, and there is hardly any direct government policy for middle-class senior citizens. In that case, discontinuing such a popular scheme is against the aged people."
Apart from concessions, in reply to the question in the ongoing parliament sessions, the Indian railways have brushed aside the speculation over resuming the stoppage of trains in the railway stations as it was in pre-COVID-19 times.
NO STOPPAGE OF TRAINS
Replying to the question of BJP MP from Khajuraho VD Sharma and Rakesh Singh, a parliamentarian from Jabalpur, the railways said that it has scientifically redesigned the timetable after the COVID and stoppages at these stations are neither operationally expedient nor commercially justified at present.
railways said, "To provide better passenger safety by creating maintenance corridor blocks, minimising conflicts in existing time tables etc., Indian railways had undertaken rationalisation of time tables (including that of stoppages) in a scientific manner with the assistance of IIT-Bombay. Since November 2021, Mail/Express services have been operated as per rationalised timetable and stoppages. However, provision of stoppage is an ongoing process on Indian railways subject to operational feasibility, commercial justification, etc."
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