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Govt defends fare hike, says rail subsidy burden was too heavy
NEW DELHI: Amid protests over a sharp hike in fares and criticism of political parties, the government on Saturday strongly defended the increase in passenger fares, including for shortdistance travel, arguing the revision was long overdue as the last hike took place around 11 years ago and a heavy subsidy burden was "unsustainable" in the wake of soaring costs.

While passengers travelling by suburban and shorthaul trains account for 52[%] of the traffic, their share in total passenger revenues was around 67[%]. This segment accounted for around 60[%] of the annual subsidy of Rs 26,000 crore, topranking officials told TOI, while justifying Friday's fare hike announcement.

"There is some discomfort among passengers, but an element of rationality has to be brought in as tickets are very low priced. Even after the increase, those travelling on season tickets will pay half the normal fare," Railway Board chairman Arunendra Kumar told TOI. For years, freight traffic has subsidized passenger operations, resulting in companies shifting consignments to road.

Political parties ranging from Congress, Left, Samajwadi Party, BSP to BJP's own allies like Shiv Sena have criticized the increase in passenger fares with cities having well developed suburban networks bearing the brunt. But a day after the hikes were announced, the government did not seem ready to yield ground.

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