Indian Railways is actively considering restoring concessions on train tickets for senior citizens. The government had in 2020 discontinued the concessions to discourage the movement of the public to arrest the spread of Covid-19.
The development comes amid a barrage of criticism the government is facing from several quarters. According to a PTI report, the government is actively considering restoring the concessions for senior citizens, but with a twist.
Citing sources, the PTI report said that the government could soon retear the concession rules for senior citizens but for that would be limited to general and sleeper classes only. It means that senior citizens travelling in non-AC coaches will only be entitled to claim concessions.
Also, on the cards is tweaking the age criteria by extending the concessional fare to those above 70 years. Earlier, the minimum age to claim concession was 58 for women and 60 for men.
The idea is to offset the cost of granting these concessions for the Railways while retaining the subsidy for the elderly, sources said. “We understand that these concessions help the elderly and we never said we were going to scrap it completely. We are reviewing it and will take a decision on it,” one of the sources said.
Sources said that tweaking the age criteria for the senior citizen concession will limit the national transporter’s liability.
“The logic is that if we limit it to sleeper and general classes, we cover 70 per cent of travellers. These are just some of the options we are considering and nothing has been finalised,” a source told PTI.
One other option the Railways is considering is to introduce the ‘Premium Tatkal’ scheme across all trains. This will help to generate higher revenue, which could offset the burden of the concessions. This scheme is currently applicable in around 80 trains.
The Premium Tatkal Scheme is a quota introduced by the Railways which reserves a few seats with a dynamic fare pricing. This quota is for the convenience of last-minute travellers willing to shell out a little extra. The Premium Tatkal fare comprises the basic train fare plus additional Tatkal charges.
Over the last two decades, railway concessions have been a much-discussed topic with multiple committees recommending their withdrawal. As a result of this, in July 2016, the Railways made the concession for the elderly optional.
The national transporter incurs a huge burden of around Rs 2,000 crore every year due to over 50 types of concessions it offers to various kinds of passengers. The senior citizen concession amounts to around 80 per cent of the total discounts given by it.
Earlier, the Railways had tried to encourage people to give up their senior citizen concession, but it was not a success.
Last week, Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, in reply to a question in Parliament, said the cost of granting concessions weighs heavily on the Railways. “…Hence, extending the scope of concessions to all categories of passengers, including senior citizens, is not desirable,” he said.