India / Free metro rides for women to cost Rs 1,560 cr, says DMRC. Raises red flags

Hindustan Times : Jun 14, 2019, 10:59 AM
The Delhi government is likely to extend its free travel for women scheme in Metro’s feeder buses too. Critical in ensuring last mile connectivity in the city, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) at present is operating a fleet of 174 feeder buses in which it plans to add 905 buses soon.

The DMRC, in its proposal submitted to the Delhi government, stated that implementing the free travel for women scheme would result in an annual loss of around Rs 1560 crore, out of which Rs 11 crore will be incurred in its feeder buses.

On Wednesday, chief minister Arvind Kejriwal had said that the Delhi government would pay the DMRC for the expenses in providing the scheme. It was on June 3 when Kejriwal had first announced that his government is working on a proposal to offer free rides to women in Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) buses, cluster buses and the Delhi Metro.

In its report, a copy of which was seen by Hindustan Times, the DMRC while offering two “stop-gap” options to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government repeatedly raised concerns over large scale misuse of the free-travel scheme. “The scheme, since it depends on manual checks, has very high risk of misuse by individuals as well as misuse in organsied manner… The amount spent on the scheme will also be in-fructuous,” reads the eight-page proposal.

The DMRC also said it is already working on altering the fare collection system in which non-transferable smartcards will be issued. It said in over a year from now, it will also be able to introduce a new technology that will test the genuineness of the beneficiary.

In filing its report, the DMRC also consulted a legal advisor to know whether such a financial subsidy or grant can be given by the state government to a particular class of passengers under the Delhi Metro Railway (Operation and Maintenance) Act, 2002. The legal team analysed laws such as the Electricity Act, 2003, National Highway Authority Act, 1988 and the Airport Economic Regulatory Authority of India Act, 2008 to conclude that no such provisions exist under the Metro Act.

“…neither the state government is empowered to subsidise the metro fares or exempt certain class of persons from payment if the metro fares, before the same being recommended by Fare Fixation Committee, which determines the fares to be collected from the passengers travelling on the metro network,” reads the legal opinion submitted by the DMRC.

The scheme drew flak from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which on Thursday said was a means of the AAP to garner votes ahead of the Delhi assembly elections scheduled early next year. “The scheme will take at least eight months to be implemented. The scheme is a sham as elections are around the corner and the model code of conduct for that could come into effect either in December or January. If Kejriwal actually had thought of empowering women, why did he not announce the scheme last year?” said Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari.