Nagpur: A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Nagpur Bench of Bombay High Court has prayed for revoking the March 19, 2020, circular that halted all railway concessions to the senior citizens, war widows and sportspersons.
The Nagpur-based petitioner Sundeep Badana contended that initially 53 categories of passengers were entitled to concessions while travelling by railways. With a view to discourage the travellers from travelling during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Central Government reduced those to 23 on March 19, 2020. However, even after the situation returned to normalcy, those 23 concessions are yet to be restarted. He pointed out that the discrimination is meted out to the common man.
While issuing notices to the respondents, including the Secretaries of the Railway Ministry and its Board, a Division Bench comprising Justice Atul Chandurkar and Justice Urmila Phalke-Joshi directed them to reply within four weeks. Assistant Solicitor General N S Deshpande accepted notices on the respondents’ behalf.
The Bench observed that representations for restoring concessions were made to the respondents. In the communication of September 22, 2021, issued by the Deputy Director (Passenger Marketing-III) on behalf of the Railway Board, the petitioner has been informed that post-Covid, concessions are permissible only in special trains.
The 38-year old petitioner pointed out that the railways had also increased the fares initially on the long-distance trains and thereafter even on the short distance passenger ones. “The increase in fares was being attributed to the special trains being run by them. These were being charged by passengers under the Ticket and Refund Rules of 2015 which stipulate a higher fare for the special train services, but without any concessions,” he said.
Badana informed that while the ticket fares were reverted to the pre-pandemic levels from November 12, 2021, the concessions withdrawn due to the special tag status since March 20, 2020, were not restored. “It led to a distress to the already burdened citizens and vulnerable sections of the society which include the senior citizens, war widows and sports persons among others.”
The petition questioned the rationale behind withdrawing concessions and increasing fares with a view to deter the common man of various age groups and categories from taking up essential travel. “The PIL expresses dissatisfaction on withdrawing the concessions to the various categories in times of the pandemic. The decision taken by the Ministry of Railways as arbitrary and violates the spirit of the word socialist which was inserted in the preamble to the Constitution of India by the 42nd amendment Act, 1976,” the lawyer said.