Thursday, March 22, 2012

Indian govt reverses rail hikes in latest setback

NEW DELHI: The Indian government rolled back most of a nationwide hike in rail fares on Thursday, underscoring the Congress-led coalition's difficulties in implementing tough policy decisions.

"I intend to give relief to the already burdened common man," the new Railway Minister Mukul Roy told parliament after his predecessor Dinesh Trivedi resigned on Sunday.

Trivedi announced the increases in rail fares, a touchstone issue among millions of Indians, only last week but the proposed rises triggered fury from his Trinamool Congress party, which is part of the ruling coalition.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has suffered a series of embarrassing policy setbacks in recent months as his fractious coalition government struggles to push through its liberalisation agenda.

The withdrawal of major reforms in the retail sector, slowing economic growth and a series of corruption scandals have beset Singh during his second term in office.

The 79-year-old prime minister has been criticised as indecisive, and the Congress party fared poorly in recent state elections.

Mamata Banerjee, leader of the Trinamool Congress party, led outrage against the rail price hikes -- the first in nearly a decade -- saying that they were a deliberate "anti-poor" policy.

Banerjee has become a thorn in the side of the government, after she also forced the reversal of retail reforms in December.

Roy told a noisy parliament that the price rises would not be implemented except in the highest class of travel used by wealthier Indians.

India's vast train system has a notoriously bad accident record, with a recent official report revealing almost 15,000 people are killed a year crossing rail tracks -- a figure the government described as a "massacre".

The government in its main budget last week steered clear of contentious economic liberalisation measures in what it conceded was a deliberate move to ensure it won parliamentary passage.

- AFP/al

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Source From Channel News Asia

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